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Spotlight On: Social Work Education & COVID-19

We want to hear from our members!
We know this pandemic has greatly impacted you and your work in countless ways, and we want to provide you with an opportunity to share your experiences with other members. Tell us how you are doing and some of the creative approaches you have taken to teach and learn in this challenging climate.

Carleton University’s Social Work Graduate Students’ Collective

May 15, 2020 – The Carleton Social Work Graduate Students’ Collective (SOWK GSC) is the group representing Masters and PhD students in Carleton’s School of Social Work, which students pay into each semester through student fees. The SOWK GSC typically uses its funds to host social and educational events and to make small capital purchases to benefit students (e.g., microwave, coffee maker). As the COVID-19 crisis emerged in Canada around March, it was identified by students involved in the finances of the SOWK GSC that there was a surplus of funds in the group’s account, due to funds saved from past years and the cancellation of typical end-of-term events.

It had come to the attention of SOWK GSC that there was exceptional financial need in Masters and PhD students enrolled in Carleton University’s School of Social Work. At the time students were not being helped by the federal or provincial government. It was clear that many people, including graduate students, were or would soon be in significant financial need as a result of the crisis. Therefore, a SOWK GSC member organized an open meeting for discussion of a possible emergency grant for students in financial need due to the COVID-19 crisis.

To respond to the exceptional needs of graduate students in social work, we created a one-time emergency grant for students. We allotted a maximum of $3000 for this initiative, which would be divided equally among applicants. The grant opened on April 1st 2020, and closed on April 10th 2020. We sent out an email through the Graduate Administrator of the School of Social Work to inform students of our initiative. We had 27 responses to our grant application. We were happy to support so many students, but unfortunately could only provide $111 to each student: enough to buy, perhaps, one or two weeks worth of groceries.

Federal support for students rolled out on May 15th. Approximately two months passed between the time the crisis began and the time students could be eligible for federal financial support. Furthermore, this federal support is targeted for undergraduate students, and does not capture the unique life circumstances of graduate students in social work. Graduate students  face exceptional challenges, such as: reliance on precarious work, which may have since ceased; fear of and direct loss of placements; playing a caregiving role for children, family members, and friends; becoming sick and caring for persons who are sick; and losing essential health and mental health supports.

While we acknowledge that there were circumstances which prevented larger bodies from providing support to students in order to promote a federal response, now that one has been announced, we hope that departments, universities, and associations for/of social work can come forward to address the additional needs of students during this unique and troubling time.

Submitted by Margaret Janse van Rensburg & Emerald Pringle on behalf of SOWK GSC

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