Enhancing Self-Awareness: A Practical Strategy to Train Culturally Responsive Social Work Students


  • Nalini J. Negi University of Maryland, Baltimore
  • Kimberly A. Bender University of Denver
  • Rich Furman University of Washington, Tacoma
  • Dawnovise N. Fowler The University of Texas at Austin
  • Julia Clark Prickett University of Maryland




Cultural competence, cultural responsiveness, self-awareness, teaching exercise


A primary goal of social justice educators is to engage students in a process of self-discovery, with the goal of helping them recognize their own biases, develop empathy, and become better prepared for culturally responsive practice. While social work educators are mandated with the important task of training future social workers in culturally responsive practice with diverse populations, practical strategies on how to do so are scant. This article introduces a teaching exercise, the Ethnic Roots Assignment, which has been shown qualitatively to aid students in developing self-awareness, a key component of culturally competent social work practice. Practical suggestions for classroom utilization, common challenges, and past student responses to participating in the exercise are provided. The dissemination of such a teaching exercise can increase the field’s resources for addressing the important goal of cultural competence training.

Author Biographies

Nalini J. Negi, University of Maryland, Baltimore

Assistant Professor School of Social Work

Kimberly A. Bender, University of Denver

Assistant Professor Graduate School of Social Work

Rich Furman, University of Washington, Tacoma

Director and Associate Professor Social Work Program

Dawnovise N. Fowler, The University of Texas at Austin

Assistant Professor School of Social Work