A new study, published in the Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, describes hateful course content and micro-aggressions reported upon by a number of Jewish students in several Canadian social work studies programs. While social work studies traditionally educate future professionals to be sensitive to the difficulties faced by the various minorities with whom they will work, the study of antisemitism is, according to all nine participants in this study, who attended five different educational institutions, was not included in course materials or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion workshops. Therefore, awareness of difficulties faced by Jewish members of society and those of potential future Jewish clients of social work trainees is thus ignored. When individual students interviewed for the study raised this problem with faculty, they saw no apparent attempt to redress the issue.
The study, published in a reputable academic peer reviewed journal, employed a research modality known as qualitative research. While quantitative methods involve statistical analyses of feedback collected from a large number of subject, in qualitative research, a small number of subjects are interviewed in great depth in order to unpack the lived experience of individuals relative to a given phenomenon. Qualitative methods, as a research modality, is widely used in the social work field which, itself, attempts to understand the lived experiences of individuals.
In this study, nine individuals shared their school experiences as they related to their Jewish identities. The authors note that additional participants continue to step forward to participate, sharing their experiences. On the basis of qualitative research methods, claims cannot be made that findings definitely represent the experiences faced by all Jewish social work students. Yet, the researchers suggest: "While views expressed cannot be rigorously inferred to any broader population, the consistency of the responses, and the intensity of the emotions express, suggest that these experiences may be reflective of those faced by a larger number of students, warranting further investigation."
Research interviewees described having to self-identify as white and privileged in class exercises under the assumption that Jews are white or white-passing. The possibility that Jewish identity is a unique factor was met, according to the several students, with an unwillingness to consider it.
Interviewees described having to contend, in class, with antisemitic stereotypes and a lack of understanding of the definition of antisemitism. The study provides the example of a class on oppression in which students were told by the professor that Jews did not experience oppression like other people; the interviewee reported that when she shared her grandparents’ experience of surviving Auschwitz, the professor responded that that is not oppression.
The social work training environment was experienced as uncomfortable to traumatic for interviewees. In a reportedly highly politicized atmosphere, students discussed having to appear to agree with ideology that stood in the face of their Jewish values and identity. Some felt unsafe disclosing that they are Jewish or identify as Zionist. In fact, the authors of the study report that some Jewish students were reluctant to participate in the study and one withdrew permission for her material to be included even after having completed the interview.
According to the study, there was no recognition afforded to the centrality of Zionism to Judaism or the historical basis for the legitimacy of the State of Israel and the Jewish state was held guilty of colonialism. Interviewees in this study reported reluctance to attempt to discuss this issue and others in order not to draw attention to themselves.
The study was initiated as a result of both documented and anecdotal reports of antisemitism in social work programs in Canada and the United States and sought to examine the lived experience of Jewish social work students, until today not studied. The current paper is a pilot project for an ongoing research project that will draw on an increasing number of interviewees.
In an addendum to the article, the authors report that three Canadian social work bodies were provided with the pre-publication report. Two of those, the Ontario College of Social Work and the Ontario Association of Social took immediate action. The former admitted that the topic of antisemitism has been neglected and has already begun covering it. The latter held a two-hour workshop for members of the Association entitled, “Affirming Jewish Identities and Dismantling Antisemitism.” Further workshops are being planned. The authors point to these workshops as encouraging signs of change.
The research is supported by the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation (primary sponsor), StandWithUs Canada, Hasbara Fellowships Canada, Doctors against Racism & Antisemitism, and the Toronto Chapter of the Alpha-Omega Dental Fraternity.