The aim of this paper is to introduce a powerful tool, community cultural wealth, which can be used to address race inequality in social work education and practice. As an academic leading social work in an English university, I support minority ethnic social work students to nurture their community cultural wealth in order that they can develop high self-concept, clear focus and understanding of inequalities. The hope is to enable a successful course progression and entry into the professional workplace.
Yosso (2005) coined and defined ‘community cultural wealth’ as a range of strengths, knowledge, skills and abilities possessed and used by minority ethnic people to empower them to maximise life opportunities and resist oppression. Community cultural wealth is rooted in critical race theory and Bourdieu’s theory of capital acquisition (Yosso, 2005). Bourdieu’s notion of ‘cultural capital’ acquisition has been used to argue that some communities are culturally wealthy whilst others are culturally poor (Yosso, 2005). This presupposes that students of colour should aspire to and obtain white, middle class norms and values in place of their existing cultures (Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez and Cooper, 2009). Yosso (2005) critiqued Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory and introduced ‘community cultural wealth’ which challenges the assumption that minority ethnic students arrive in educational establishments with cultural deficits. This rejects the notion that black students aspire to obtaining white norms and values (Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez and Cooper, 2009).
The original version of community cultural wealth has been adapted to align with innovative and workable strategies used to identify, draw upon, consolidate and enhance an array of cultural wealth.
This is understood as formal and informal networks of family, friends and other social contacts which provide personal and professional emotional support, advice and assistance to enable people to be lifted to improved positions in society.
The cultural knowledge nurtured among family can carry a sense of community history, language, religion, faith, belief, shared memory, cultural practices, customs, dress and behaviours. Cultural capital is nurtured by family and ensures a proud connection to a community and its present and ancestral resources. This includes linguistic understandings, intellectual and social skills attained through communication in more than one language or style. Cultural capital for the students provides social education in developing community well-being, coping and pride.
The ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of perceived and real barriers, suggests ambition and aspiration. Inherent to this is the capacity for resilience and the embracing potential and infinite future possibilities available through education, occupation, economic status, emotional and psychological wellbeing.
The knowledge and skills fostered through oppositional behaviour tend to challenge racial inequality on a personal or structural level. This is grounded in the struggle of resistance to subordination and may include oppositional behaviour, direct challenges to formal or informal routes and utilising education to resist.
Strategies and abilities can be used by students to successfully manoeuvre through social institutions and organisations created for self-perceived monocultural societies. The assumption is that students can navigate successfully through university campuses and placements. Navigational capital acknowledges individual agency as well as utilising networks to steer through spaces and places.
This refers to what individuals know and believe about themselves. Self-concept is the sum of an individual’s beliefs and attributes, rooted in self-evaluation and self-perception (Upamannyu, Mathur and Bhakar, 2014). Self-concept is multi-dimensional and incorporates cognitive processes, knowledge, feelings, behaviours, values and attitudes. Individuals with high self-esteem are clearer about their self-image (Baumeister, 2009). Those with self-concept clarity are able to define self-attributes with greater certainty and confidence. This makes them more consistent and conceptually stable (Baumeister, 2009; Noguti and Bokeyar, 2014).
In the context of a UK university curricula content tends to be dominated by white, male and Eurocentric authors and represent the (predominantly white) demographic profile of academic staff (Bird and Pitman, 2019). Singh and Kwhali (2015) suggest that diversity is not reflected in higher education and minority ethnic students feel more detached when racial inequalities are significant and prevalent (Equality Challenge Unit, 2019).
Students have a lifespan in any educational process and connecting with people is a key part of the learning journey. For example, during induction time must be made to allow them to make friendships. The importance of maintaining and building existing family ties must be emphasised as this may have a positive impact on minority ethnic students’ participation (Connor, et al., 2004).
Opportunities for students to explore the range of social and community networks may enable discussions on how familial knowledge can be nurtured and expanded. Emotional and practical support is critical when they are balancing conflicting demands, professional challenges and personal hardships. Social capital can support students to seek support and care in order that they are better able to cope in a manner which is culturally nourished (Yosso, 2005; Yosso, et al., 2009). Lecturers have a responsibility to initiate discourses on students’ upbringings and culture so these strengths can be recognised and developed. Students need space to showcase their cultural heritage and be encouraged to express the different ways that people experience and view the social world. Diversity can bring varied viewpoints and different approaches to social work practice (Sangha, 2020). Global cultural perspectives enhance lectures. The positive value of multiple languages, varied communication and storytelling skills should be accentuated in the process of decolonising the social work curriculum (Sangha, 2020).
Universities need to ensure their assessment processes, marking criteria and academic writing strategies are objective, fair and accepting enough to embrace different perspectives. In lectures, when assessing and in providing feedback, students need to be encouraged to constantly aim higher and realise their full potential. Students can be encouraged to think about excellent grades and successful progression with the ultimate aim of gaining the job of their dreams. During teaching, learning and assessment, aspirational capital is an essential notion to instil because it enables students to maintain hopes and dreams for the future and develop resilience (Yosso, 2005).
Social work students can be subject to racial discrimination throughout their educational journey and may need to be supported to draw on their resistant capital, knowledge and skills to deal with oppositional behaviour (Yosso. 2005). Students need theoretical and practical understanding of key concepts such as race and racism, anti-racism, white privilege, anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice.
Dillon (2011) and Thomas, Howe and Keen (2011) found that minority ethnic students balance a multiplicity of factors including academic demands and placement complexities. Navigational Capital may be essential during the learning journey so that the resources available to them in university and placements (including study skills, library services, pastoral support, financial aid, tutorials and counselling) are fully utilised.
Universities have an obligation to review and restructure institutional processes which impact adversely on student engagement and progression. For example, in England the academic year is structured into rigid semesters which take little account of caring responsibilities or part time employment – demands which many students have to meet. Modules are traditionally taught face to face as opposed to more flexible on-line learning. Assignments have to be submitted strictly on time. Such outdated structures can work against minority ethnic communities who are often from lower socio-economic backgrounds and place higher value on family contact. Restructuring of the courses would allow students to balance their time and energy evenly between personal and academic life, develop friendships, meet financial responsibilities and seek support.
Minority ethnic students do not always successfully progress and find themselves subject to stress and poor confidence (Sangha, 2020). Emotional intelligence is an essential prerequisite for any social work academic as it allows connection and sensitive interpersonal relationships implicit in the duty of care. Self-concept clarity is critical for student social workers who are on the path to newly qualified status. Self-concept activities such as lifeline exercises offer students an opportunity to explore multiple roles that they hold (such as being a father, a student, a care worker).
Strengths-based exercises can enhance knowledge and skills. Self-affirming exercises can help build their self-esteem and confidence. These activities will enable students to better understand and attain high self-concept clarity.
Community cultural wealth shifts the lens away from a deficit view of minority ethnic communities as places of cultural poverty. It recognises the resources individuals, families and groups have to adapt, thrive and resist within racist institutions and social structures (Huber, 2009). The idea is rooted in building strength and the recognition and value of the cultural capital that minority ethnic groups bring to the social work profession (Huber, 2009; Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez and Cooper, 2009).
Finally, universities should be encouraged to fundamentally revise educational processes and embark on ambitious plans to decolonise teaching, learning and assessment. Identifying and nurturing community cultural wealth is one way to transform education and empower minority ethnic students to utilise resources abundant in their communities (Yosso, 2005).
Baumeister, R.F., 2009. The Self in Social Psychology. New York: Psychology Press.
Bird, K.S. and Pitman, L., 2019. How diverse is your reading list? Exploring issues of representation and decolonisation in the UK. Higher Education, 79, pp.903-920.
Connor, H., Tyers, C., Modood, T. and Hillage, J., 2004. Why the Difference? A Closer Look at Higher Education Minority Ethnic Students and Graduates. Nottingham: Department for Education and Skills.
Dillon, J., 2011. Black Minority Ethnic Students Navigating their Way from Access Courses to Social Work Programmes: Key Considerations for the Selection of Students. British Journal of Social Work, 41(8), pp. 1477-1496. Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), 2019. About ECU’s Race Equality Charter. [online] Available at: ecu.ac.uk [Accessed 7 November 2019].
hooks, b., 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. London: Routledge.
Huber, L.P., 2009. Challenging Racist Nativist Framing: Acknowledging the Community Cultural Wealth of undocumented Chicana College Students to Reframe the Immigration Debate. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), pp.704-784.
Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R. and Cooper, R., 2009. Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies, 45, pp.534-555.
Noguti, V. and Bokeyar, A.L., 2014. Who am I? The relationship between self-concept uncertainity and materialism. International Journal of Psychology, 49(5), pp.323-333.
Sangha, J., 2020. What are the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in relation to their progression on an undergraduate social work course in one university in England?
PhD. Anglia Ruskin University. Sangha, J., 2021. What are the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic students in relation to their progression on an undergraduate social work course in one university in England?
Social Work Education, doi.org
Singh, G. and Kwhali, J., 2015. How can we make not break black and minority ethnic leaders in higher education? Stimulus paper. London: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.
Thomas, G.C., Howe, K. and Keen, S., 2011. Supporting black and minority ethnic students in practice learning. Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 10(3), pp.37-54.
Upamannyu, N.K., Mathur, G. and Bhakar, S., 2014. The Connection between Self concept (Actual Self Congruence & Ideal Self congruence) on Brand Preferences. International Journal of Management excellence, 3(1), pp.308-319.
Yosso, T.J., 2005. Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), pp.69-91.
Yosso, T.J., Smith, W.A., Ceja, M. and Solórzano, D., 2009. Critical Race Theory, Racial Microaggressions, and Campus Racial Climate for Latina/o Undergraduates. Harvard Educational Review, 79(4), pp.659-786.