December 2010
The Full Spectrum of Social Work
By Damien T. Frierson, M.S.W, graduate assistant, Office of University Communications
Alumna Rachel Bradley Williams and Professor Ruby Gourdine, D.S.W., discuss the many layers of the social work profession. (Marvin T. Jones)
According to the National Association of Social Workers, there are 640,000 professional social workers in the U.S. in varying positions. Yet, for many people there remains a misconception about the versatility and depth of the profession.

“There is still this belief that social work as a profession is limited to removing children from abusive homes or handing out government benefits,” says Rachel Bradley Williams (M.S.W. ’98), a program specialist for clinical supervision in the D.C. Public School System (DCPS). “Those particular roles have turned into a stereotype because that’s all people think we do. It doesn’t represent the full spectrum of what a social worker is.”

As the School of Social Work celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, it continues to graduate scholars who demonstrate how multifaceted the profession is. The school remains committed to its mission, including one of its earliest principles—producing culturally competent social work practitioners, educators and researchers.

“There are so many layers and possibilities in social work and I think each of them informs the other,” says Williams. “I have been fortunate enough to have experienced just a few of the spheres social work can move you through. Social work’s perspective of focusing not only on the individual but the environment in which they live made sense to me as a person.” 
Williams says that the School of Social Work’s emphasis on the Black perspective, and meeting the needs of marginalized groups appealed to her. “I wanted to be a social worker to not only provide therapy to people who needed it but to also focus on the barriers that confront, what the school refers to as, oppressed populations.”

Yet, she also acknowledges, “I really didn’t have a strong sense of what social workers actually did before I came to Howard.”

Under the guidance of faculty, she was exposed to the many facets of the profession found within both its clinical and community practices. It is this experience that Ruby M. Gourdine, D.S.W., professor of social work, highlights as one of the aspects that the school focuses on.
“There are so many layers and possibilities in social work and I think each of them informs the other.”

“We meet a variety of students that come in at different stages of their learning,” says Gourdine. “We offer a curriculum that helps our students meet those various challenges that they’ll face as social workers.”

Serving in her current position since August 2010, Williams guides the practice of school-based social workers. Charged with assisting clinical social workers throughout the DCPS system, her days are anything but predictable.

Throughout the week, she may visit up to 12 schools, assisting other social workers with navigating their role as a part of a school setting. “You are in an educational focused setting surrounded by teachers and administrators who may see that child from only one specific way,” she says. “Sometimes you are that lone voice saying, ‘but no, there are other factors.’ Making sure that they maintain that social work perspective is what I see as my job.”

From processing a recent crisis with a student to navigating administrative challenges faced by the social workers themselves, Williams sees this as the most rewarding aspect of the profession. “I can’t always anticipate the challenge I will have to address during the next week or day, but that’s the exciting part of my job and the profession of social work itself.”

In her current position and as an adjunct instructor at the National Catholic School of Social Service at Catholic University, she is hoping to change this image. “By working with professional social workers and shaping future professionals, I have the opportunity to have all of those things that most people wouldn’t assume a social worker does come together in my own career.”
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