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The Howard University School of Social Work (HUSSW) was established as an autonomous unit in l935, although instruction was offered in social services as early as 1914. There were strong advocates within the ranks of the University for social work education, most notably: Lucy Diggs Slowe, the first Dean of Women at Howard, and Dr. E. Franklin Frazier, Chairman of the Department of Sociology. The first "basic curriculum" was offered in the Department of Sociology and was directed by Dr. Frazier, who had previously served as Director of the Atlanta University School of Social Work. He was a pioneer in advocating standards for social workers and insisting that they be properly trained. The "basic curriculum" conformed to the 1932 accreditation standards of the American Association of Schools of Social Work, the predecessor accrediting body of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Dr. Frazier was initially assisted by one full-time instructor and in 1937, by an additional full-time instructor, Dr. Inabel Burns Lindsay, who later became the first Dean of the School of Social Work at Howard University.
The establishment of formal instruction in social work education at Howard University emerged during a critical period in American history. It coincided with the Great Depression of the 1930s, the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935, the emergence of large-scale public social services and the onset of World War II. These historic developments provided a strong impetus for the development of social work education at Howard. Additionally, there was a strong appeal for social work education at Howard from African Americans employed in the District of Columbia's New Deal programs. Few of the recognized schools of social work in America - and none in Washington - D.C. were open to qualified African American applicants. A 1932 study undertaken at the request of the Washington Council of Social Workers revealed that of 69 persons newly employed as social workers only five were graduates of schools of social work, 10 had completed one course in social work training and the rest were completely untrained. The lack of training was largely attributable to the lack of educational opportunities for Blacks, who constituted the largest number of persons seeking social work education among the emerging social welfare workforce in Washington.
In 1942, Howard University's social work program became a division of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It remained in the Graduate School until an autonomous professional school was established within the University at the beginning of l945-l946 academic year. Dr. Lindsay was appointed the first dean of the newly established School of Social Work. Early accreditation (l930-1940) of the one-year Certificate Program of the Division of Social Work in the Graduate School was superseded by full accreditation of the new two-year Master of Social Work degree program by the time the first graduates received their degrees in June 1946.
During the 1970s, social work at Howard expanded to include baccalaureate and doctoral level education. In the 1990-1991 academic year, the dean and faculty recommended to the Board of Trustees that the School's Bachelor of Social Work degree program be discontinued. The decision was based on three factors: (1) interest in strengthening graduate and post-doctoral education, and research at the master's and doctoral levels; (2) limited resources; and (3) low enrollment in the baccalaureate program. Additionally, the School placed a strong emphasis on scholarly publications and research.
The School received its most recent reaffirmation of accreditation of the master's degree program in 2020 for the maximum 8 years. We are accredited through 2028. The influences which led to the development of social work education at Howard University were both internal and external. The intellectual impulse to provide the best education possible for those working in the public social services continues as a dominant theme in the School's mission, objectives and outcomes for students. The School remains concerned about the welfare and well-being of African American people and others who are poor, oppressed and disadvantaged in society. The Black perspective, which includes the Black Diaspora, serves as a base for a set of guiding principles, undergirding our curriculum and informing our knowledge development and research activities and social policy initiatives.
Over the years as the social work profession and social welfare institutions have evolved in response to changes in American society and throughout the world, the Howard University School of Social Work has progressed as well.
In 2010, The School of Social work instituted its Alternative Spring Break and International Student Learning partnership in Cape Town, South Africa. To date almost 70 students have attended this program along with faculty. The program emphasizes human rights.
In 2015, the School of Social Work celebrated 80 years of social work education. During this year long celebration, Alumna John Jacob presented the school with the John and Barbara Jacob endowed professorship. The celebration also included a conference that highlighted alumni and faculty who have invested in our legacy. See more details here.
Today the School of Social Work is a more complex institution than ever before. The curriculum is richer and enhanced by new courses, electives and concentrations. We have a number of course offered online. The student body is more diverse in terms of family background, geographic origin, nationally and internationally, age and persons with disabilities. Teaching remains the core faculty activity, however, research, knowledge development, training and technical assistance have become important areas of faculty activity. Research, knowledge development and funded projects are major aspects of the life of the School. The Presidential Commission on Academic Renewal (PCAR) ranked both the MSW and PhD as top programs at the University.
In 2020, the U.S. News and World Report ranked our school in the top 20% of social work programs.
The goals of the School are to continue on the pathway of excellence as defined by our history and mission, and build upon past and present achievements. Our vision of linking practice, policy and action with research is being pursued through the E. Franklin Frazier Center for Social Work Research and the Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center. Long-range planning and capital development are underway to further the goals of building endowments to support the core academic programs, faculty and students, doctoral and post-doctoral education, international programs, continuing education, distance learning and enhanced learning resource facilities.
In accordance with the mission of Howard University and that of the School of Social Work, the educational philosophy of our program reflects the importance and complexity of transactions between people and their environment. Both the MSW and Ph.D. programs are rooted in the knowledge, values and skills necessary for professional practice that promote and sustain social justice and the quality of life for individuals, families, groups, communities, and organizations. The educational philosophy recognizes the multiple roles, functions and arenas of social work practice as well as the interdisciplinary knowledge base upon which professional practice is based.
The educational philosophy of the School of Social Work recognizes the need to produce graduates who are educated for competent professional practice with all client groups, but with a special sensitivity and concern for people in Black communities. Therefore, the educational programs require careful consideration of the range of theories and approaches used to prepare students for competency. While the knowledge base of the MSW and Ph.D. programs is flexible, both share the person-in-situation framework. Varied theories and approaches, e.g., systems and developmental theories, and the psychosocial and problem-solving approaches that can be accommodated within this framework, as well as by the Black Perspective are used to prepare students for effective social work practice.
Our faculty is engaged in curriculum renewal activities on an ongoing basis, revisiting our mission and the vision we have for the future. We are engaged in long-range and strategic planning as we position the School to maintain its excellence and enhance its knowledge development and research activities. The faculty has reaffirmed our mission statement and our vision to establish a strong program of research and knowledge development for social work practice and social policy. Knowledge development efforts will contribute to the empirical base of practice, add to the social work knowledge base and lead to the improvement and quality of life for Black people, the poor, other minorities and the whole society.
The mission and history of Howard University and the School of Social Work serve as the central foundation for the overall objectives of the School.