Loyola University Chicago

School of Social Work

Foundation Courses

SOWK 370: Power, Oppression, Privilege, and Social Justice

Credit Hours



Sophomore standing.


This social work course is designed to assist social work students to understand the concepts of privilege, oppression, and social justice in their work with all diverse populations. There are three essential and unique micro, mezzo, and macro components to developing cultural consciousness and humility as social workers that include: 1. Developing an ongoing awareness of self and personal/professional boundaries (micro); 2. Understanding the unique needs and lived experiences of diverse populations (mezzo); and 3. Expanding our awareness of the various systems of oppression and privilege that contribute to our self-awareness and self-concept as well as our perceptions of others (macro).

To address the first component, the course challenges students to engage in a deep exploration of self-awareness of their own cultural identities, values, and biases in a number of areas including but not limited to: childhood and family background, race/ethnicity, social class, gender/gender identity and sexual identity, immigration status, as well as other socio-cultural aspects. A core concept of this class is to minimize oppression, bias, and stereotyping and to maximize the capacity for empathy in our understanding of all diverse populations. It is imperative that social workers engage in ongoing, long-term, self-exploration.

Throughout the course, to address the second component, students will be asked to broaden and deepen their knowledge about and awareness of cultures and identities outside their own. The lectures, readings, and course exercises will provide an introduction to a variety of communities and cultures, with the understanding that the process of knowing any community or culture other than one's own is a formidable undertaking far beyond the scope of any single course. The focus is therefore less on specific cultural traditions and norms, and more on cultivating personal and professional skills and stances that encourage the client to articulate their personal experience and definition of their own culture(s).

The third component of the course is an understanding of social identity formation on a macro level: exploring models and systems of privilege, marginalization, invisibility, and oppression that become inextricably bound to an individual or group's self-concept, as well as to the way the group is perceived by society. Concepts of intersectionality, social identity construction, and systemic oppression will be explored.

Theoretical and conceptual perspectives and frameworks of critical race theory, anti-racism and anti-oppressive social work, and the concept of intersectionality (e.g., multiple dimensions of human identity) are infused throughout the course. In addition, this course will also help students to recognize, and assess the presence of, and the impact of microaggressions on individuals, couples, families, and communities along with exploring the implications of microaggressions for micro, mezzo, and macro social work practice.

Other issues to be addressed in this course may include some of the following topics: the role of social justice and action through community movements; multicultural organizational change; racial/cultural (white and minority) identity development; exploration of dimensions and barriers to effective multicultural social work practice (including the impact of acculturation) on individuals, couples, and families.

SOWK 370 Syllabus