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Finding positive responses during divisive times

After the 2016 elections, emotions were heightened and a number of students across the country found it difficult to go home for the holiday break and face family members with strong opinions that differed from their own. 

What students saw as a daunting obligation, faculty at the WVU School of Social Work saw as a teachable moment.

Students in the Graduate Social Work Organization and faculty planned a series of "teach-ins" during multiple classes over the third and fourth weeks of March in order to reach more students.

“Our social work students work with some of the most vulnerable populations in the community and these are often the first groups to get targeted in executive orders, like we’ve seen already,” said Mariann Mankowski, assistant professor of social work. “We wanted to use this opportunity to prepare them on how they can confidently respond and advocate for those threatened during these divisive times.”

The teach-ins, led by Professor Leslie Tower; Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Gerontology Certificate program Kristina Hash; and Assistant Professor HaeJung Kim, consisted of a presentation, film and role-playing activities to allow students to develop their skills in responding to difficult situations. 

“Differing opinions happen in the world around us every day,” said Samantha Buford, a graduate social work student and president of the Graduate Social Work organization. “As a social worker, we advocate for our clients with professionals who might have differing opinions. In these situations, it’s best to know how to handle the differing opinions without it turning into an argument.”

The teach-ins provided students with an opportunity to learn about a topic that is not usually discussed in class. Students looked at social and moral areas of psychology to learn how people develop their social views.

“In order to respond effectively with others, students needed to be aware of where they came from and how those values, ideas and opinions got formulated in the first place,” Mankowski said. “Once they can understand themselves, they can understand where the other person is coming from.”

Photo by David Farquhar