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October 2020 Educator | Resource of the Month

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The Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice Educator|Resource is a monthly feature that highlights curricular resources and social work educators who address diversity and justice.

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“In Western Colorado we have had the worst wildfire year in history, with the Grizzly Creek fire burning just three miles from my home,” shares Rachel Forbes, who with Cathryne Schmitz co-chaired the steering committee for the new Curricular Guide for Environmental Justice. “I live in Glenwood Springs, on Colorado’s Western Slope. Between the Pine Gulch fire north of Grand Junction (the state’s largest in history) and the Grizzly Creek fire which ravaged the beautiful ecosystem that is Glenwood Canyon, our small valley was enveloped in smoke for much of the summer months. The collective impacts of mourning the loss of centuries of pristine habitat, while breathing in hazardous smoke and figuring out evacuation plans for loved ones and livestock were felt broadly and deeply by our traumatized community.”

The Curricular Guide for Environmental Justice offers a critical addition to the CSWE 2015 EPAS Curricular Guide Resource Series and addresses “the underlying contexts of environmental injustice that have not received adequate attention in mainstream social work, despite its disparate and expanding impact on communities already marginalized by race, ethnicity, gender, or income.”

Teaching Resources

The curricular guide facilitates the integration of environmental justice content and pedagogical approaches across social work curricula and programming, including internship experiences in field education as well as other resources. The upcoming book, The Intersection of Environmental Justice, Climate Change, Community, and the Ecology of Life, authored by the curricular guide’s steering committee chairs in collaboration with other social work scholars, provides models for action, practice, and education. It will include examples of how programs and schools have integrated and infused environmental justice content across their curricula. The second resource, Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice, & Sustainability, is “designed to be a guide for community building, transformative learning, and life-changing action.”

Q&A: Educator Pedagogical Approach

Rachel Forbes: How do you help students feel empowered to create change given the enormity of the climate crisis?

It’s easy to feel powerless and hopeless in the face of climate change and the ecological destruction that comes as a result. One way that I support students to feel hopeful and motivated while learning about the climate crisis is by helping them foster a sense of agency. 


About the Educators

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Rachel Forbes, MSW, is an associate professor of the practice of social work at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. She co-chairs the CSWE Committee for Environmental Justice and serves on several local and regional boards throughout Western Colorado.

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Cathryne L. Schmitz, PhD, MSW, is a professor emerita in the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She has been engaged in global interdisciplinary education at the juncture of injustice across human systems and the natural world.

The views expressed in the Educator|Resource are those of the educator(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council on Social Work Education.

 Interested in contributing to the Educator | Resource of the Month? Please contact Dr. Yolanda Padilla, CSWE Diversity Center Director, at [email protected].