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Christie Tarpley has a message for Black students and Black families: A degree in social work can take you wherever you want to go. An instructor and faculty liaison at the Tulsa campus of the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work, Ms. Tarpley is also the advisor for the Social Work Student Association.
As an undergrad at the University of Central Florida, Ms. Tarpley was one of just a few Black students in her social work program. “For Black and Brown students and their families, there’s not enough knowledge about social work and what social workers can do,” said Ms. Tarpley in an interview with The Black Wall St. Times. As a social worker, Ms. Tarpley has worked in many roles: as a financial literacy educator at a church; in a hospital with high risk pregnant women; with older children aging out of the foster care system; and in clinical practice as a counselor.
Yet the myth persists among Black families that social workers’ only role is taking away children through DHS. This type of skepticism about social workers contributes to a lack of interest in pursuing social work higher education, said Ms. Tarpley.
Ms. Tarpley would like to see social work recruitment efforts aimed at students from marginalized communities. Ms. Tarpley suggested Black social workers invited to career day at high schools. “Black students pursuing higher education need to know all the options about social work,” she stated during the interview. “I call social work a ‘holistic’ degree: one in which graduates can work anywhere.”
Ms. Tarpley herself did not start college to pursue social work. A psychology major, she switched to social work after learning all the ways social workers provide practical support for underserved families. “People of color regularly experience oppression, and that builds on our instinct to help others,” she said. “I wanted to reach out with my hands and help.”
As an educator, Ms. Tarpley encourages Black representation in social work programs, among both students and faculty. “Inclusion starts at the top,” said Ms. Tarpley, who notes that Black social work professors promote belonging among Black students — and infuse the classroom environment with more than textbook learning. “Learning about cultural competence is wonderful,” said Ms. Tarpley, “but experiencing oppression builds resilience and relatability.”
Ms. Tarpley plans to continue educating Black students about social work and social workers. “We must support the next generation,” she said emphatically, adding, “That’s why we’re here. That’s our purpose.”