History and Diversity of Social Work at Misericordia University
The Professional Social Work education program evolved out of the Religious Sisters of Mercy’s own call to compassionate service through the ministries of teaching and healing. Social work courses designed to help students develop and act on a sense of responsibility for the critical issues of justice, service and mercy were first offered by the College in the 1950’s. Expansion of course offerings through the 1960’s eventually led to the development of a formal undergraduate social work major in the latter half of the decade. By 1975 Misericordia University’s Social Work Program received full accreditation status by the Council on Social Work Education, making it among the first in the country to receive this distinction.
Students are exposed to issues of racial, cultural and contextual diversity throughout the curriculum. All required sociology courses, i.e., SOC 101 Comparative Sociology; SOC 122 Social Problems; SOC 221 Cultural Minorities; and SOC 321 The Family, contain material intended to provide students with an appreciation for and understanding of the implications of diversity for social service delivery systems and individual practice. These same courses also address different ethnicities and women. The oppression and discrimination of women and other disenfranchised groups and the consequences of these actions are likewise covered in the sociology sequence. SOC 221, Cultural Minorities specifically focuses on the most vulnerable ethnic groups in the United States, i.e., African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, and Latino/Latina.
Human diversity is addressed in the curriculum by ensuring that all courses include content on some aspect of racism, sexism, ageism and sexual preference, or preferably all four. Again, all sociology courses as well as required social work courses devote significant content to diversity and at-risk populations.
Field practicum exposure to cultural and racial diversity is minimal due to the population composition of Northeastern Pennsylvania. For this reason, the program’s classroom approach and field opportunities address diversity in gender, age, social economic status, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity and physical or mental impairment since students are more likely to encounter these issues in practice in this area.
In addition to the Social Work Program's strong focus on understanding diversity, the University helped found and continues to support NEPDEC (North East Pennsylvania Diversity Education Consortium). This group continues to offer groundbreaking seminars, workshops and events to institutions, corporations and other providers.
Social work majors are required to develop an awareness of the demographics of Luzerne County including populations, age groups, ethnic and racial composition, workforce, etc. They are also required to survey the formal and informal resources available to various individuals and groups. The principal means for knowledge building in this area is through completion of a Community Context of Practice Paper, a course requirement for SWK 466 Social Work Methods and Processes III. Students learn of the area’s strong work ethic, the fading textile and clothing manufacturing industry, the higher than average unemployment rate, the disproportionately large elderly population, the under-representation of racial minorities; and various other characteristics affecting social work practice in this region.