Addressing our own biases: social work educators’ experiences with students with mental illnesses

Jennifer L.K. Charles, Lynn Holley, David C. Kondrat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


The International Federation of Social Workers charges professionals with challenging ‘discrimination … and … unjust policies and practices’ that impact individuals with mental disabilities. Social work educators thus have a duty to prepare students for anti-oppressive practice with people with mental illnesses (MIs), a population that experiences microaggressions. To fulfill this duty, educators can endorse cultural humility, which involves a commitment to critical self-reflection, recognizing the subjectivity of cultures, and challenging inequalities. This qualitative study of 264 social work faculty addresses two research questions: (1) Do social work educators report classroom climates and personal reactions reflecting microaggressions toward students with MIs? (2) Do educators practice cultural humility in the classroom and in other interactions with these students? Findings include that participants engaged in both cultural humility and (unintentional) mental illness microaggressions. By practicing cultural humility, educators might learn how to avoid microaggressions by, for example, facilitating the development of supportive classroom environments, particularly when students disclose; encouraging critical self-reflection; and guiding students to address systemic discrimination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)414-429
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Work Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 19 2017


  • Mental illness microaggressions
  • classroom disclosure
  • cultural humility
  • mental illness discrimination
  • oppression
  • social work education
  • stigma
  • students with mental health conditions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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