The Racial Projects of White Social Work Students


  • Courtney D. Cogburn
  • Chelsea A. Allen Columbia School of Social Work
  • William R. Frey
  • Prema Filippone
  • Brittany R. Brown
  • Susan Witte



Anti-racism, liberalism, whiteness, social work education


Despite a theoretical shift toward anti-racism, racial projects within social work assert public positions against structural racism, while upholding mechanisms that perpetuate its existence. Analyzing the perceptions and intentions of incoming white liberal social work students is necessary for any effort to deconstruct racial projects in the social work profession. The sample used in the present study is composed of a white (n = 139), mostly liberal-identified (84%) group of incoming first year MSW students. Students were asked to provide open-ended responses to a vignette about a Black mother engaging with Child Protective Services (CPS). The vignette was designed to assess structural analysis and decision-making in response to real-world examples of racism and anti-Blackness. The study employed semantic thematic analysis to describe the ways social work students make meaning of the vignette and how this process informs their proposed actions. Students varied significantly on the level of analysis they provided in response to the vignette. The analysis examines patterns of racial projects across 3 main response categories: 1) Descriptive, 2) Analytical, and 3) Action. This analysis is important for informing pedagogical innovations aimed at training anti-racist and anti-oppressive social workers.


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