Erick da Luz Scherf  (The University of Stavanger (UiS), Faculty of Social Science, Department of Social Studies)

(Norway )

Topic: Challenging the colorblind curriculum: addressing race, ethnicity, and diversity in Social Work education in Portugal
Language: English 


Social work education needs to prepare students for culturally relevant practice, and one aspect of that educational goal involves teaching about race and ethnic diversity (Olcoń et al., 2020). Because social workers will likely encounter service users from different racial and ethnic minority groups, they need adequate tools and competencies to address racism and other forms of discrimination in social work practice, in addition to being able to recognize their own biases and how to overcome them in favor of better interventions for the populations they serve. With that in mind, the main goal of this research is to assess if and how questions of race/ethnicity and diversity are addressed in the social work curriculum in Portugal. Portugal is a former colonial power that was actively involved with and benefited from the transatlantic slave trade, and until today, ethnic minorities and racialized individuals and communities in Portugal, especially people of African descent, experience racism in different forms, either through microaggressions, blatant violence, racial profiling, or frequent police brutality (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2021a). Therefore, there is an urgent need for systemic racism and related discrimination to be addressed in Portuguese society more generally speaking, as well as in social work education in specific. The idea that Portuguese people cannot be racist has been fostered by media, society, and political discourses in Portugal, particularly through the promotion of a colorblind viewpoint, where there is no space for race and ethnicity to be discussed (Araújo, 2006). The argument here is that a colorblind social work curriculum contributes to these normative discourses and possibly to the reproduction of systemic oppression (Choi, 2008). Thus, this investigation is concerned with the extent to which colorblind ideologies inform social work education in Portugal and how the curriculum reflects (or does not) the lived experiences of diverse populations. The research adopts a qualitative approach based on a mix between qualitative content analysis and document analysis as its main methodological tools. The idea was to look mainly at curricular structures and syllabi of Social Work undergraduate (or Bachelor’s) programs in Portugal to search for words and themes related to race, ethnicity, and diversity. This work is anchored in different theoretical frameworks, including intersectionality, Critical Race Theory, and Antiracist Education, among others.