Are Social Work Educators Bullies? Student Perceptions of Political Discourse in the Social Work Classroom

Christopher Flaherty, Gretchen E. Ely, Nancy Meyer-Adams, Jeffrey Baer, Richard D. Sutphen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Social work's professional commitment to working toward social justice for vulnerable groups is well known. However, as a profession, social work has been criticized for proposing professional perspectives that may be interpreted by some as political indoctrination. The purpose of the current study was to examine social work students' perceptions of political debate in the classroom. An additional goal was to examine whether students believed that colleagues who hold certain sociopolitical beliefs should be prohibited from receiving a social work degree. Four hundred and ninety-seven undergraduate and graduate social work students from 10 programs were surveyed. Results show that a majority of respondents were comfortable with the discussion of sociopolitical content in the classroom. Nevertheless, students who self-identified as politically conservative were more likely to report that they perceived the classroom environment as less open and hence less conducive to debate. Finally, overt racism was identified as the only attitude that should prohibit someone from receiving a social work degree. Implications for social work education are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-74
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Teaching in Social Work
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • attitude
  • conservative
  • political bias
  • progressive
  • religious
  • social work education
  • social work students

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science


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