Cultural competence can best be understood as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that enable a system, agency, or professional to function effectively across cultural difference (Cross, 1988). In this context, cultural difference (also called diversity) includes, but is not limited to, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and socio-economic class. As Cross (1989) notes, "systems, agencies, or professionals do not start out being culturally competent. Like other types of competence, cultural competence is developed over time through training, experience, guidance, and self-evaluation.
The Diversity Committee guides the implementation of our plan for increasing the cultural competence of the School of Social Work, including recruitment and retention of faculty and students who will contribute to the diversity of the School. In 1996 the School implemented an organization-wide intervention that dramatically increased its capacity to develop the knowledge, skills and experiences required for culturally competent practice. Outcomes of the initiative included monthly faculty diversity training, increased opportunities for students for practicum with diverse populations, and substantial curriculum revision to more adequately prepare students for practice with diverse populations. In addition, partnerships were developed with a wide range of individuals and organizations throughout Iowa and other states in the Midwest, as well as partnerships in Mexico, India, San Bernardino and Philadelphia. These partnerships have increased our cultural competence as a School and enriched our educational programs so that our students will be better prepared to work in a diverse world.
As a result of these efforts, the School was honored with the UI Catalyst Award (that recognizes the outstanding work of individuals and departments engaged in strengthening diversity within the UI community.) The School's faculty and staff are grateful for the support received from within the University and for the opportunities to collaborate with individuals and organizations around the State and in other countries. These efforts are part of the profession of social work's broader mission to promote social justice.
The immersion learning programs at the School of Social Work are designed to complement classroom didactic learning by putting students into intensive learning experiences where they encounter people who live in dramatically different environments, who come from very different cultures, and in some cases, who speak a different language. Applying social work knowledge, skills, and values in these intensive immersion experiences can produce rapid learning. The immersion learning experiences enrich the education of students and faculty, help them to become more culturally competent, and prepare students for practice in a diverse, multicultural, and global world. The School has sponsored trips to India, Mexico, El Salvador, the Kensington Welfare Rights Union in Philadelphia, and the Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino, California.
The University of Iowa School of Social Work in conjunction with the National Resource Center for Family Centered Practice has sponsored the Iowa Latino Conference since 1998. The goal of the conference is to create an event every year that will serve all segments of the Latino community throughout the state of Iowa. This includes individuals, families, nascent groups, and established organizations. A very important part of this mission is placing the yearly creation of the conference in the hands of the community. The University of Iowa School of Social Work, the Raíces Project, and other organizations serve as partners in this process but community members are in charge of and responsible for the conference. This method is used to engender important skills and provide opportunities within Iowa's Latino community.
At the 2010 conference, the organizing committee was recognized by the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs by winning the Mary Campos Award. This award honors groups for their long-term commitment to improve the quality of life for Latinos in Iowa.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge F.&A.M. of Iowa and Jurisdiction, in celebration of Black History Month, recognized eleven individuals from the Iowa City and University of Iowa community for their contribution and service. Shown here is Kevin Sanders, (left) Past Master of Iowa City Lodge No 4. A.F.&A.M., and current officer of the Grand Lodge of Iowa A.F.&A.M. (and social work student) presenting the award to Clinical Assistant Professor Motier Haskins.