As BSW Undergraduates, we are required to fulfill an international requirement. This relatively new mandate is required of all majors under the College of Health and Human Services if one desires to graduate. The most frequently chosen method of fulfilling this requirement is to take HHS 350, a 3-unit course which conveniently meets the International Requirement, the GE Explorations (Social and Behavioral Sciences) and the Cultural Diversity requirements. I recently returned from HHS 350 Mexico over Spring break and found it interesting the profound difference between experiences in HHS 350 Mexico and that of students returning from, for example, HHS 350 Switzerland.
According to the NASW Code of Ethics, one of our values is social justice, with the ethical principle of dedication to challenging social inequities. This value is disregarded in practice at SDSU when mandates on international experience are based on price. For example, the most affordable trip is HHS 350 Mexico because it does not require the purchase of international plane tickets and due to the relative low cost of living in Tijuana, personal expenditures while on the trip are manageable when compared to other destinations. The Mexico option is one which students with limited means hope to enroll in. While this option is well-received, the actual experience is one which actively contributes to the stratifying of students based on income in direct opposition to the NASW Code of Ethics.
According to the NASW, social justice is focused on issues of “poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice.” The HHS 350 requirement as it currently stands promotes social injustice by discriminating against low-income students by allowing students with resources to skip hard labor in Tijuana for a European experience. For example, HHS 350 Mexico had students build homes for the needy which involves 4 days of intense, dangerous manual labor such as digging compacted clay dirt with picks and shovels and the pouring of cement without safety goggles, the issuance of proper work gloves or first aid rinse stations which would have come in handy when a student had wet cement in his eyes. Compare this to the more expensive European experience, where students were taken on a tour of the Nestle Corporation in Vevey, Switzerland. Nestle has a market capitalization of $233 billion and according to the CIA World Factbook, is a “prosperous, and modern market economy with low unemployment, a highly skilled labor force, and a per capita GDP among the highest in the world.” This chasm in experience and education can be avoided if the itineraries of HHS 350 trips were similar in nature yet they are not. As a result, SDSU is teaching students that money can buy you the same three credits that a poor student must earn through protracted labor.
It is ironic that SDSU, while seeking to impart international experience, end up reinforcing social injustice in its curriculum. Poor kids must work harder to reach their goals than rich kids. SDSU needs to tailor HHS 350 trips to provide equal exposure to equal experiences. If changes are not made, this international experience might as well be called HHS 350 Status Quo.
The World Factbook: Switzerland. (2014, March 28). In Cental Intelligence Agency. Retrieved April 16, 2014
Code of Ethics. (2008). In National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved April 16, 2014
Terri Skyer is a BSW student.