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Culturally Relevant Social Work Practice Within a Context of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence

Culturally relevant social work practice (CRSWP) is situated within a broader ideal of the institutional goal of Diversity and Inclusive Excellence at Tulane University and The Tulane School of Social Work (TSSW). In 2009, Diversity and Inclusive Excellence was defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as, "The active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity to increase one's awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication, and empathic understanding of the complex ways individuals interact within systems and institutions." According to Tulane University's 2013 Strategic Plan, Diversity and Inclusive Excellence are included in teaching, learning, research, institutional effectiveness, and regional and global engagement.

At the social work practice level and as an organizing framework, CRSWP is a broader (or more comprehensive) term than cultural competence and cultural sensitivity. CRSWP prioritizes social work's responsiveness to local cultural contexts using through the TSSW clinical-community, relationship-based approach. We acknowledge that the term "culture" has had multiple meanings throughout history, as well as positive and negative connotations. For the purpose of TSSW, "culture" is subjectively defined by an individual or groups and may be based on age, class, color, culture, disability and ability, education, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and expression, immigration status, marital status, nationality, political ideology, race, religion/spirituality, sex, sexual orientation, tribal sovereign status, and any other domain of a person's social, political, and/or cultural location. People hold multiple "cultures" simultaneously that interact and intersect in complex and diverse ways.

Specifically, CRSWP encompasses the following tenets:

  • Localized and CRSWP is culturally responsive and occurs within a context of egalitarian collaboration and in-depth communication. This distinct type of practice occurs from the ground up. CRSWP is a process that begins with the identified group and seeks to understand its history and norms, particularly from the perspectives of group members themselves. Understanding the group's needs occurs through collaborative and equal partnerships between social workers and those they serve. We respect group member's right to self-determination about their needs. Paramount in this type of practice we recognize group member's capacity to identify pathways to ameliorate problems and build upon strengths.
  • CRSWP prioritizes social justice and advocacy as a constant process, which simultaneously addresses structural inequality along with the clinical and community realms of social work practice.
  • CRSWP incorporates cultural sensitivity, which places central emphasis on the historical context, worldviews, cultural experiences, norms, beliefs, values, and behaviors of a distinct group and integrates their preferences into social work practice in culturally congruent ways.
  • CRSWP emphasizes cultural humility, or the commitment to life-long reflexivity, self-evaluation, and learning that aims at redressing the power imbalances inherent among professionals, clients, mainstream, and people whom have experienced oppression.