#MacroSW Chat 2/27/2020: Decolonizing Social Work from a Field Education Perspective

Chat transcript

Field education is a critical part of the social work curriculum. It is the foundation for the professional development of students. Thinking about how to decolonize social work from a field education perspective can fundamentally change how new social workers emerge in the profession and shape their approach to future social work practice.

Decolonizing social work focuses on removing the destructive practices, beliefs, and ideals, which have denied people of color their rights and freedoms. This concept acknowledges the stolen lands and oppression of indigenous people. The first steps in decolonizing social work is self-awareness around privilege and racism and encouraging students and field instructors (preceptors) to engage in difficult dialogue on these topics. This is essential for effective work with clients.

Field instructors play a pivotal role in decolonizing social work and must engage in discussions about race and oppression with students and approach work with an anti-oppressive lens. Both the field instructor and the student learn a great deal from this process.

Join us on Thursday, February 27 at 9 p.m. Eastern (6 p.m. Pacific) for the #MacroSW chat, Decolonizing Social Work from a Field Education Perspective to discuss how educators can facilitate conversations about race and oppression with students.  We will explore how your identity shows up in social work practice, what accountability looks like for anti-racism practice, and how we embark on tasks to undue racism.

We will share resources and create an affinity space for people of color and white people to bear witness and share their perspectives, lived experiences, identity, and positionality and have uncomfortable conversations in an effort to decolonize the space. This is an effort of #MacroSW to acknowledge how white supremacy and racism has appeared in our group.

Field instructors are on a parallel journey with students in their own self-awareness and education around race and oppression. Starting these discussions is more important than waiting to have the perfect conversation. Also, acknowledging when mistakes are made in interactions is part of the process and makes a difference in creating dialogue across differences and undoing racism and oppressive practices.

Decolonizing social work takes internal evaluation to explore and share your lived experience and positionality. Nothing has prepared us to have these conversations and this chat is only a beginning point to discuss decolonizing social work. Some have advanced knowledge and self-awareness in this journey while others may be just beginning this process.

Questions/discussion points we will explore:

  1. Affinity space for people of color. Share how your identity shows up in your practice. White people bear witness, hold your response, and reflect on your accountability as allies.
  2. Affinity space for white people. Please share how your identity shows-up in practice. Examine your accountability and white privilege.  People of color please listen, hold your response, and bear witness.
  3. How does white supremacy show up in your agency, organization, school, or practice and what is the impact on students and communities you serve?
  4. How do you teach anti-racist work and in the supervision of students in field education?
  5. How can field instructors facilitate conversations around race and oppression in an effort to decolonizing social work practice?


Ovita Williams (@OvitaWilliams) is the Associate Director of Field Education for Family, Youth and Children Services at Columbia University School of Social Work and co-author of Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: A Guide for Social Work Field Education.  She also served as Interim Dean and Director of the department for two years.  Ms. Williams has taught the Social Work Practice and Domestic Violence course at CUSSW and the Social Work Practice Lab for Liberation and Social Justice at Hunter College/Silberman School of Social Work.  Ms. Williams is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in intimate partner violence and forensic social work practice with ten years of experience as the Director of Clinical Services in the Counseling Services Unit at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.  Prior to this position, Ms. Williams was a therapist at the Children’s Aid Society.

Ms. Williams has developed and facilitated interactive workshops for social workers, managers, and various practitioners at organizations on facilitating challenging dialogues around race, class, gender, sexual orientation and intersecting identities.  At Columbia, Ms. Williams has worked with students, alumni, faculty and administrators on the development of a new course Decolonizing Social Work through a power, race, oppression, privilege framework. The course centers anti-black racism and dismantling white supremacy culture.

A graduate of Vassar College (’90) and Columbia University (’93), Ms. Williams is presently a doctoral student at Hunter College/Silberman School of Social Welfare in New York City.  She is completing work on her dissertation, “Exploring Forensic Social Workers’ Experiences Counseling Intimate Partner Violence Survivors in a Criminal Justice Setting”.

 Atavia Whitfield (@AtaviaWhitfield) is a higher education, consulting, and nonprofit management professional. She is the Associate Director of Field Education for the Online Campus at Columbia University’s School of Social Work (CSSW). And, she is an alumna of CSSW where she sharpened her clinical and management practical skills. Her areas of practice specialty and interests are program design and development, program evaluation, strategic planning, and nonprofit consulting. Atavia has managed teams to achieve programmatic outcomes and organizational goals, while consistently applying a social work perspective to her administrative and management work.  

Ms. Whitfield supports field education for the online campus at CSSW. Within two years, she developed nearly 250 partnerships to support social work students in their field practicum learning and growth, nationally. She hosts webinars to instruct MSW students on the field education course and inform potential field instructors at institutions across the United States. Every year, Ms. Whitfield instructs a seminar training for agency-based supervisors supporting CSSW students. Additionally, Ms. Whitfield led instruction for the first cohort of MSW students attending the Motivational Interviewing skills-based lab at CSSW.  

As a consultant and nonprofit leader, Ms. Whitfield collaborates with budding nonprofit organizations to assist with their incorporation and tax exemption needs. She created a small business which provides programmatic support to new nonprofits. Through this venture, Ms. Whitfield has supported clients whose work impacted communities in West African countries. In other positions, Ms. Whitfield has recruited, trained, and supervised teams to support educational and nonprofit administrative projects. Her leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit has allowed for the development of infrastructure to support field instruction for a growing online academic program.  She has a mindset of continuous improvement. 

Ms. Whitfield is a licensed social worker with experience in clinical and management roles. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Grinnell College. She also holds a MSSW from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. 


Check for these references with your university library

Bertrand Finch, J., Williams O., Mondros, J., Franks, C. (2019) Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn: A Guide for Social Work Field Education, 3rd Edition, CSWE Press. http://bit.ly/2G51ep7

Belkin Martinez, D., Fleck-Henderson, A. (2014) Social Justice in Clinical Practice: A Liberation Health Framework for Social Work, Chapter 11, Liberation Health in the Hospital, 169 -182. https://amzn.to/2Ht8EDu

Blitz, L. (2006) Owning Whiteness: The Reinvention of Self and Practice, 241 -263.The Haworth Press, Inc. http://bit.ly/2SNOpFO

Young, I. (1988)Five Faces of Oppression, Chapter 1, State University of New York Press Albany. http://bit.ly/37vN7o7

Hardy, K. (2016) Antiracist Approaches for Shaping Theoretical Practices. Chapter 8, 125 -143. Strategies for Deconstructing Racism in the Health and Human Services.http://bit.ly/38AI1bD

Miller, J., Garran, A., MSW (2017) Confronting Racism in Agencies and Organizations. Chapter 10, 258-273, Racism in the United States: Implications for the Helping Professions, Second Edition. Springer Publishing Company. http://bit.ly/2SCt4jB 

Pinderhughes, E. (1989) Culture, Social Interaction, and the Human Services. Chapter 2, 13 -20. Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Power: The Key to Efficacy in Clinical Practice. The Free Press. http://bit.ly/2VaJaCW

Garran, A., Rasmussen B., (2014) Safety in the Classroom: Reconsidered, Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 34:4, 401-412 http://bit.ly/3c3sDq7

Sensoy, Ö., DiAngelo, R., (2014) Respect Differences? Challenging the Common Guidelines in Social Justice Education. Democracy & Education, vol. 22, no 2. http://bit.ly/2SSzE5I

Summary of Stages of Racial Identity Development, Summary by Interaction Institute for Social Change


Jones, K., Okun, T. (2001) White Supremacy Culture – From Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, ChangeWork

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