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ACOSA Update

Greetings from the Chair 3.29.23
By Cheryl Hyde
Posted: 2023-03-29T13:30:00Z

Greetings! Spring has hit Philadelphia. It’s beautiful but you need to really love sneezing. Also this week, Philadelphia joined the much-too long list of cities with water problems. A latex chemical spill on the Delaware River has the potential to contaminate the city’s water supply. So far, testing indicates no imminent danger. This is yet another reminder of how basic services and infrastructures are so poorly maintained and regulated. Yay, free market!

Since March is coming to an end, and with it another Social Work Month in the books, I wanted to take one more run at the theme – "Breaking Barriers." I regularly hear from folks about various barriers that social work, or social workers, continue to invoke that thwarts innovation, engagement, and justice. Unfortunately, many of these barriers exclude or marginalize macro education and practice.

Here's a case in point. Last February, Blanca Alvarado, ACOSA Treasurer, gave her time to a BSW student who needed to interview a social worker for a class assignment. For those of you who know Blanca, you can imagine how rich an interview this would be – filled with insights from her over 20 years of practice, including community building and organizing experiences and discussion of the importance of ACOSA and other macro organizations. By all accounts, the student was engaged in and excited about this learning opportunity.

Imagine Blanca’s surprise when she was recently contacted by the student, who reported that she was only receiving partial credit because Blanca "wasn’t a social worker as she didn’t hold a license." The course instructor had, as an assignment requirement, stipulated that interviewees had to hold a license per Texas "title protection" law (having seen a copy of the assignment, this instruction was convoluted). No license – then you’re not a social worker.

Not surprisingly, Blanca was angered and disappointed. She reached out to me and others to determine a response to the instructor. And what a beautiful letter it was. Blanca pointed out that by using such a restrictive definition of social work, the students were deprived of learning about that vast array of what is possible especially in mezzo and macro practice – and isn’t that exposure the point of social work generalist education? In her response, the instructor essentially doubled-down, adhering to her assignment directions and dismissing Blanca’s concerns and suggestions.

This didn’t stop Blanca! She then sent another powerful letter to the instructor’s department director expressing concern about the narrowness of the assignment, the lost educational opportunities, and the erasure of mezzo and macro social work. Blanca even invoked the school’s mission, which includes advocacy and community work. As did the instructor, the department chair re-iterated the Texas statute and assignment "rules." There would be no further discussion, which has led Blanca to her next step – contacting NASW-Texas to address this issue (the chapter president is a macro social worker). Blanca is also supporting the student should she file a grade grievance.

Now technically, the instructor is correct – Texas Occupations Code 505.002 states that social workers have protected title status through licensure. And yes, instructors can set whatever ridiculous assignment criteria they want. For me, as I learned about this from Blanca, what is so disconcerting is the rigidity and lack of engagement by the instructor and school director. There was no willingness to dialogue, to consider other viewpoints. No indication that through other assignments, students would learn about macro social work. No suggestion that one could critique or problematize this definition of social work. In short, no creativity or reflection – two essential ingredients in being an innovative social worker.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case. In communications with students and faculty from across the country, I hear about how macro content is minimized or not taught at all. Schools and CSWE invoke the accreditation standards, but a careful read of these reveals that coverage of organization, community, or policy practice are not explicitly required. A program, in theory, could meet the standards of assessment, engagement, implementation and evaluation by focusing only on individual or family systems (even though other systems are listed). Programs can say that they address "community" as a context, but not as a system that we partner with for the purposes of change. Students, especially, talk about the loneliness of being the only (or one of a few) of students interested in macro level transformation; many hear the message that they aren’t "real" social workers. And I hear from clinical practitioners that once they are out contending with agency employment, they feel ill-prepared for dealing with the organizational and community dynamics that shape their work.

I don’t need to say this, but I will – this is why we need ACOSA and the Macro Commission, the Macro Student Network, the Network for Social Work Managers, Influencing Social Policy, and other macro organizations. We need to fly the macro flag in our school and professional organizations. Most importantly, we need to create safe places where students, practitioners, and faculty feel welcomed, supported, and respected.

So, hero of Social Work Month goes to Blanca Alvarado for challenging the barriers that social workers place on social work. Let’s keep this work going!

In solidarity,

Cheryl (

P.S. If you’d like to reach out to Blanca and support her efforts, her email is: