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Scholars swap ideas at Gallic think tanks

Michálle Mor Barak, clad in light blue pants, led discussions on diversity and multiculturalism in Europe and the United States.

The French countryside seemed a fitting setting for international colleagues of different backgrounds to discuss managing a multicultural and diverse global workforce. It was the site for one of two think tanks, led by Michálle Mor Barak, director of the PhD program at the USC School of Social Work, to consider how other disciplines might be approaching similar challenges and how these practices might be applicable to the social work profession.

For the second time, Mor Barak received a $35,000 grant from the Borchard Foundation to hold a colloquium at the Château de la Bretesche in Brittany. She invited 10 renowned scholars and experts to deliberate the differences between multiculturalism and diversity management policies in Europe and the United States.

“The colloquium brought scholars from different fields that don’t typically talk to one another to think about issues not normally considered in any other environment,” said Mor Barak, Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor in Social Work and Business in a Global Society. “With this lovely backdrop of the Château, being completely away from the office and university and the usual ways of working, brought about creativity that wouldn’t have otherwise emerged.”

University professors from France, Denmark, Finland and the United States were joined by the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, the director of the National Science Foundation’s Science of Organizations and the director of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to explore the paradox between the success of diversity management in business, the perceived failure of multiculturalism policies in Europe, and the relevance of this paradox to communities in the United States and around the world.

The connotation of multiculturalism policies in Europe is different from that in the United States. These policies were initiated in the 1970s to give different communities the freedom to enjoy their cultures and develop a sense of unity rather than conform to mainstream ideals, Mor Barak said.

However, in the last few years, multiculturalism policies have been declared a failure by several prominent world leaders, such as Angela Merkel in Germany, Nicholas Sarkozy in France and David Cameron in the United Kingdom, in that communities have become too separate, creating friction rather than a harmonious relationship among different groups.

Each participant in the colloquium wrote a paper discussing one aspect of this issue and presented it to the group, generating a lively discussion and collaboration of ideas. For example, Martha Farnsworth Riche, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, discussed perspectives of global demographic changes and how they affect economic pressures and diversity in different cultures with her paper, “Living and Working with Different ‘Others’: Demographic Underpinnings and Policy Directions.”

The discussions focused primarily on what can be learned from the success of diversity in business organizations, how communities work and how to make members of different groups collaborate. Insights garnered from these discussions demonstrated the need to provide more evidence for the benefits of diversity and to examine the future trajectory of both diversity management and multiculturalism policies.

“The combination of the unusual international and interdisciplinary composition of the group really brought about ideas that were creative and innovative,” Mor Barak said. “It was exceptionally enriching to have scholarly discussions with people outside of my field.”

Following the colloquium, Mor Barak co-led a roundtable discussion, together with Professor Jim Lubben from Boston College whose School of Social Work co-funded the initiative with USC, focusing on social work science in doctoral education.

“This was a remarkable initiative that Dean [Marilyn L.] Flynn started to get scholars together to think about the science of social work,” Mor Barak said. “We wanted to look at what the implications were of this line of thinking and how we could incorporate it into educating and preparing our future scholars, leaders and educators in the profession to be proficient in understanding the notion of science in social work.”

Twenty scholars participated in the discussion. Ignited by paper presentations, the group discussed relevant issues related to the implications of the science of social work for doctoral education, such as the meaning of “big data” for research and scholarly work, its effect on how doctoral students are trained and the influence of social work science on international doctoral education.

Mor Barak also presented a paper she co-authored with John Brekke, Frances G. Larson Professor of Social Work Research at USC, regarding the identity formation of doctoral students as scientists and exploring the nature of social work as an integrative science discipline. As such, social work generates new knowledge that integrates knowledge from other disciplines with the way of thinking and investigating that is unique for social work.

“Our argument is that to have a sense of who they are as scientists, doctoral students must understand what our science is about, which is why we are proposing this idea of integrative science. This is a fairly novel idea for the profession,” Mor Barak said.

Another major focus, she noted, was the growing understanding of the need to create a professional doctorate that is focused on advanced professional knowledge that will be distinguishable and complementary to the scholarly/scientific doctorate.

“Practitioners in both clinical and management positions need an option of earning a doctorate that is not research/scholarly based but professionally based,” Mor Barak explained. “It is important to figure out how we differentiate, yet create collaboration between these two doctorates.”

The papers from this meeting will be presented as part of an invited symposium at the upcoming conference of the Society for Social Work Research.

Representatives from key organizations, such as the Council on Social Work Education, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education and the Society for Social Work Research, were also in attendance at the roundtable to examine the suggested implications for doctoral education and how to incorporate some of those ideas into the workings of their organizations.

“There was a lot of energy and excitement in the meeting, and the participants wanted to continue the discussions,” Mor Barak said. “There will likely be a continuation of these discussions next summer.”

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Scholars swap ideas at Gallic think tanks

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