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Antisemitism in Social Work Education

TORONTO, ON FEBRUARY 21, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

PRELIMINARY RESEARCH STUDY DISCOVERS INCIDENTS OF ANTISEMITISM AND ANTI-JEWISH BIAS IN FIVE CANADIAN SOCIAL WORK SCHOOLS


“Exclusion, Isolation, and Rejection: Emerging Anecdotal Reports of Jews Studying Social Work. Preliminary Findings” appears in Fall 2022 edition of biannual Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, a peer-reviewed journal published by academic publisher De Gruyter

 
  • “I was afraid of being cancelled because I was Jewish and support Israel.”

  • “I was subjected to hateful course content.”

  • “I felt pressured to believe ideologies that counter my Jewish values.”

  • “Why was the study of antisemitism omitted from my curriculum?”

  • “My professor claimed that Jews never experienced oppression like other communities and that Auschwitz was not oppression!”

 

Men and women of varying ages and backgrounds, undergraduates and graduates, enroll in social work studies because they want to help those in need and make an altruistic footprint.


Today, some students – committed, idealistic and Jewish – are confronted with behaviours and attitudes that contradict the spirit of this profession. When some universities invalidate those principles upon which its teachings were established and promote untruths and values that target Jewish students – an essential profession may be on the path to losing its moral compass.


PRELIMINARY RESEARCH STUDY


Throughout 2022, a preliminary study, sponsored by the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation with Doctors Against Racism and Antisemitism, Alpha-Omega Dental Fraternity/Toronto Chapter, StandWithUs Canada, and Hasbara Canada, was undertaken by Annette Poizner, MSW, Ed.D, RSW and Stacey Love, BA, a Social Service Intern completing her diploma at George Brown College.


This study, exploring the experiences of Jewish students in social work education, was instigated by reports of antisemitism within a number of these institutions. The Researchers chose Qualitative Research as the method to better understand the realities and experiences of a handful of people from five Canadian institutions. Nine self-selected students, most of whom had previously reported their personal concerns and incidents of antisemitism, responded to the study’s call for interviewees.


QUALITATIVE RESEARCH


To gain insight into people’s experiences and perspectives on a particular issue, the Qualitative Research method gathers and analyzes non-numerical data, conducts in-depth interviews and collects information rich in detail and context. Qualitative methods are used in social work, psychology, sociology, educational research and many more contexts where researchers strive to understand the underlying reasons that activate people’s behaviours and influence their attitudes.


The views expressed in this preliminary study cannot be rigorously inferred to a broader population. Nevertheless, the consistency of these responses and the intensity of the emotions expressed suggest that these experiences are reflective of those faced by a much larger number of Jewish social work students. The interviewees told their stories with the assurance of anonymity – their own and their institutions’.


The protocols followed were reviewed and approved by Dr. Ernie Lightman, Professor Emeritus at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, relative to ethical adherence to best practices for Qualitative Research. The study is ongoing.



SUMMARY OF NOTABLE THEMES


· ANTISEMITISM OMITTED FROM CURRICULUM WHEN OTHER FORMS OF OPPRESSION ARE WIDELY COVERED

  • Student F: “When I asked my professor why we do not discuss antisemitism within the curriculum, he said that Social Work stays out of religion to remain neutral. I argued that we discussed Islamophobia many times throughout the year. He declined to answer and returned to his desk.”

· ANTISEMITISM AND ANTI-JEWISH BIAS

  • Student B: “Unless you are in the walls of that school, you would never believe what goes on! In The Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Professor Emeritus Ernie Lightman, School of Social Work, U of T, so eloquently put into words the sinister under-handedness about how antisemitism rears its head in social work at the University of Toronto, in particular. It’s fascinating. You won’t get it until you read it. Everyone is complicit.”

· LACK OF AWARENESS ABOUT JEWISH IDENTITY

  • Student B: “There’s no space for Jewish identity in their minds or in their views.”

  • Student E: “In my MSW program, not one person knew how to engage in a conversation about Jewishness, not even from curiosity. A frozenness of mind and heart, a room stripped of intelligence.”

· IGNORANCE ABOUT ANTISEMITISM

  • Student E: “The Holocaust was mentioned, but never the word Jew, never six million. Nazi science was applied to racism, racial superiority, white supremacy.”

· PRESSURE TO BE A MOUTHPIECE FOR IDEOLOGIES OPPOSED TO JEWISH VALUES

  • Student B: “All my years at that university were traumatic. My core values were challenged every day. I was told the sky is green and if you don’t subscribe, you are an idiot. No balanced approach. You must give them what they want. I survived by regurgitating their whatever and excelled, but at the cost of my own morals. I hid my Jewish identity.”

  • Student H: “In this paper, I had to lie about my opinions and demonize right-wing policies to get an A”.

  • Student A: “My counselling class teacher coached us to insert Critical Race Theory into the counselling process, and tell clients that their problem was caused by the colonists and Europeans who came to North America.”

  • Student B: “That school is very radical and extremist. I didn’t learn how to be a social worker because we were taught that social work is fighting a battle.”

  • Rebecca Katzman, student requested identification: “I stated publicly that I did not embrace their ideologies and was perceived as disagreeable by everyone. I did not pursue a graduate degree because I didn’t want be in an environment with people who hated me.”

· ANTISEMITIC TROPES

  • Student I: “My class on the foundations of social work featured a sign that said, ‘The enemy doesn’t come by boat, the enemy comes by limousine.’ And my professor dramatically asserted that capitalism is wrong!”

· ANTIZIONISM AND ANTI-ISRAEL MESSAGES

  • Student A: “My school’s narrative… openly pro-Palestinian, Israel is a colonizer, Jewish people have no right to their homeland, no examination of Jewish humanitarian issues ... and more. Place is all full of hate.”

The linked “Exclusion, Isolation, and Rejection: Emerging Anecdotal Reports of Jews Studying Social Work. Preliminary Findings” includes more comments from social work students, as well as referenced information that substantiates these themes.


ADDENDUM… AND THE FUTURE


This study seems to indicate that some students currently enrolled in social work education are contending with antisemitism, as well as anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviours in their schools. Further research is required to better understand the lived experience of these students, the stressors they face and the extent of problems such as those identified herein. This study continues. Students are invited to share their experiences while maintaining anonymity.


Although these findings warrant further investigation, the authors feel, at a minimum, that the field must integrate the study of antisemitism into both the social work curriculum and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) training where it is currently omitted. The Researchers explain, “We must encourage the social work profession to educate its students and practitioners about antisemitism.”


Addressing local efforts by social work organizations, they add, “We appreciate that the Ontario professional bodies are now working to self-correct. Nevertheless, we await signs of change from the individual schools where the worst of the problems have been reported.”


Ms. Poizner is optimistic about bringing these findings forward. She cites influential Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Carl Jung (1875–1961), founder of analytical psychology, who stated, “When the diagnosis is correct, the cure can begin.” By bringing these issues to light, she remains confident that the necessary changes can occur.


SPONSORS AND CONTRIBUTORS


In undertaking this study, the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation (CAEF) has partnered with Doctors Against Racism and Antisemitism (DARA), Alpha-Omega Dental Fraternity /Toronto Chapter, StandWithUs Canada and Hasbara Fellowships.


Research Director: Annette Poizner, MSW, Ed.D, RSW Research Assistant: Stacey Love, BA The study includes contributions by Andria Spindel, Jesse Primerano, Elisa Alloul, Rebecca Katzman, BSW, RSW and Robert Walker.



The study is ongoing, and additional Jewish social work students and recent graduates from across Canada are invited to participate.


Available for media interviews: Annette Poizner, MSW, Ed.D., RSW, Director of Research Rebecca Katzman, BSW, RSW (social work student from 2013-2017)


Additionally. students from various other faculties and schools across Canada are available for interview about antisemitism on their campuses.


Contact: Andria Spindel, MSW, Executive Director, Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation Email research@caef.ca Phone 416-409-3822


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ANNETTE POIZNER, MSW, Ed.D, RSW Research Director


“Exclusion, Isolation, and Rejection: Emerging Anecdotal Reports of Jews Studying Social Work. Preliminary Findings” appears in Fall 2022 edition of biannual Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, a peer-reviewed journal published by academic publisher De Gruyter


Annette Poizner, MSW, Ed.D., RSW is a Registered Social Worker and member of the Ontario College of Social Work and Social Service Work who has provided therapy for adults and teens for over 25 years. She completed her social work training at Columbia University of New York, and her Doctorate of Education specializing in counseling psychology at the University of Toronto (OISE). Because her 300-page doctoral dissertation involved Qualitative Research, she was well-qualified to use this modality to explore the lived experience of Jewish social work students.


Ms. Poizner undertook the study upon hearing stories relayed by an acquaintance training in the field. Learning of this individual’s educational challenges, specifically those related to her Jewish identity, she wondered whether there was a broader problem at play. Seeking to better understand whether other Jewish students in social work might be facing similar difficulties, she launched this research study with the support of several Jewish organizations. Stacey Love participated, functioning in the role of social service intern/co-author.


Throughout 11 years, on a volunteer basis, Ms. Poizner established the Jewish Health Alliance, an organization that explored the intersection between Judaism and the healing arts. During this time, she organized 41 programs with co-sponsors that included Baycrest Hospital, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Jewish Family & Child Service and other organizations and synagogues.


As the author of a psychology textbook published by scholarly publishing house Charles C. Thomas, her work has appeared in professional newsletters and academic journals, featured in daily newspapers across Canada, as well as trade magazines and campus newspapers.


Ms. Poizner has presented at clinical conferences including the Canadian Psychological Association conference, the International Conference on Spirituality and Social Work, pastoral counseling conferences and others. As well, she served as the senior consultant for an experiential exhibit at the prestigious TED Talks in British Columbia.


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