The Department of Social Work at the University of Vermont, through its teaching, scholarship and public service, prepares students for entry level and advanced professional social work practice, helps meet the human service needs of the State of Vermont, in particular, the needs of vulnerable populations; advances social work knowledge; and contributes to a more just world order.
In carrying out these activities, we affirm our commitment to human rights and social justice. Our educational programs will reflect this commitment by emphasizing the historical, social and political contexts of social work knowledge and practices, the individual and collective strengths of people served by social workers, the values and ethical standards of the social work profession, and our active opposition to all forms of oppression. We will prepare our graduates with the knowledge, skills, and values to work with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities in ways that respect, enhance, and support human dignity, is oriented toward strengths-based and relational understandings and practices, and guided by principles of human rights and social justice.
Underlying the mission and goals of social work programs in the department is a set of core, interrelated beliefs that provide an orientation to the way in which social work is understood and practiced. We label these beliefs as the strengths perspective, critical social construction, social justice and human rights.
A strengths perspective affirms the basic dignity, resourcefulness, resilience, and adaptability of people and their capacity for transformational growth and change. It orients services toward people’s capabilities, triumphs and resources, and encourages the development of social policies and research that identify, nurture and support these qualities. Strengths-oriented social work honors difference and diversity. Social workers practicing from a strengths perspective respect the unique life worlds of the people they serve and recognize the creative and supportive potential of heterogeneous communities., Thus, they support the multiple ways in which people choose or feel compelled to live their lives and work against social processes that marginalize.
The value-explicit position of the strengths perspective and its emphases on social processes and language, places it within the broader conceptual framework of critical social construction. Critical social construction provides a conceptual framework for understanding, analyzing, and critiquing knowledge claims and for generating new perspectives. From a constructionist standpoint, knowledge is created through historically, culturally and politically situated processes of social interchange rather than being the product of individual minds or a reflection of the external world. By viewing people and their environments, as well as knowledge of people and their environments, as historically and socially embedded, critical social construction supports and extends social work’s traditional person-in-environment perspective.
Within social construction’s social relational view of knowledge, language is the primary currency, not merely mirroring the world but constituting it. This orientation highlights the linguistic and regulatory influences of the cultural, institutional, structural, and interpersonal contexts within which language is shaped and expressed. By untethering knowledge from a foundational view of truth, social construction invites and legitimates multiple analytic frameworks and forms of knowledge, and value-explicit inquiry and practice. Since no one perspective is considered to have privileged access to truth, social construction supports intellectual diversity and tends to oppose the elimination or suppression of forms or models of understanding. As a sociohistorical product, knowledge is intimately connected to power. This connection encourages social workers to engage in “oppositional discourses of criticism and resistance” (Lather, 1991, p. xvii). These qualities of critical social construction connect it with the program’s third emphasis on human rights and social justice.
Human rights and social justice provide the moral grounding for social work practice and research. These concepts reflect our belief that all people should fully participate in the “culture’s construction of the good and the real” (Gergen, 1994, p. 180). They direct social work resources and activities toward people who are oppressed and marginalized. Since respect for basic human rights (freedom and well-being) provide the necessary conditions for a just society, they are both the starting points and ultimate criteria by which we judge the value of social work practice and research. Social workers contribute to a just society by helping to create the structural arrangements and social processes in which these fundamental rights are honored and resources are obtained and distributed in an equitable manner.
The above program philosophy defines the conceptual parameters and commitments of the program. It articulates the assumptions that undergird the curriculum and outlines our vision of professional social work.