By: Kara Murphy
Cut to: the Carlow University Social Work web page. A huge picture of an unnamed Carlow student, surrounded by a couple of children, begins to load. The student, who is not a Social Work major, does not represent even one of the Social Work program’s most common demographics. Made up of mostly nontraditional adult, female, and ethnically diverse students, Carlow’s Social Work program is well respected in the Pittsburgh area, as our Mercy-centered values align almost identically to most, if not all, of the ethical principles of Social Work as a profession.
So…why does the website advertise differently?
It seems to be just another in a long line of attempts to draw in a larger male population. By inflating the male presence on advertisements, brochures, web pages, and other media outlets, Carlow hopes to not just represent those men who already attend Carlow but also to focus on increasing the proportion of men being admitted year to year. It feels gimmicky, and it conflicts with the reason I came to this school rather than Pitt, which is: Carlow is a women-centered liberal arts school that focuses on academics, community, and social justice rather than athletics and profit.
I understand that part of continuing the legacy of Carlow is through expansion, but should it be through the violation of the values of the institution and its students?
Students who have lived on campus may remember the “Men of Carlow” brochures that were distributed, slid under all of the doors of the dorm rooms a few semesters ago. The brochures identified men who lived on campus who were seeking girls. Even last year, when a St. Patrick’s Day party was being advertised, the flyer depicted an over-sexualized, busty cartoon woman with glasses of beer in each hand. As a woman who hoped to live in an environment free of harassment and blatant sexism, I have been disappointed time and time again as I, and everyone else on campus, am repeatedly barraged by that which we had been promised would not be tolerated. And yet, it continues. As a student who lived here before Carlow allowed co-ed floors, the influx of men on campus and the addition of a co-ed floor has been a huge adjustment for everyone, and the problems that have arisen have not always been handled effectively.
But there’s another issue that members of the Carlow community may be more hesitant to address. The picture on the Social Work web page is that of a white male working with young children of color. Research has noted, time and time again, that the general population believes that Social Work consists of white men and women going into homes and taking children away from parents who are unfit. Not only is this inaccurate, but it is also insulting to a profession whose theory is an eclectic and holistic one. Social Work, unlike many other fields, works to bridge a plethora of perspectives in order to take a strengths-based, context-conscience approach to empowerment and problem-solving. Social Work happens in government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, schools, international programs, hospitals, and several other arenas. Social Work focuses on people who are differently able, those who need assistance with housing, and those who need help caring for an elderly family member or ailing friend. It also is the only helping profession that, in its Code of Ethics, requires workers to participate in social justice and activism, especially when it comes to working through issues of inequalities and injustices regarding race, gender, and LGBTQ rights. It isn’t the same old “white savior” situation you see in so many movies and TV shows.
Social work actively strives to improve its bad reputation, despite its historical and continued work with all populations. Images like the one on Carlow’s Social Work web page only reinforce those stereotypes that Carlow students fight so hard against. The racialized nature of this picture, though clearly unintentional, emphasizes a fundamental lack of understanding of the values of Social Work and the people that live out its work. It would be different if the student in the picture were actually a Social Work student, and there are plenty of beautiful pictures of my wonderful classmates to choose from; a number of them are male, should the marketing department wish to appeal to potential male students. As a proud member of the Social Work program, I simply wish for all of our hard work to be accurately represented in Carlow’s media.
And don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that men shouldn’t come here. I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t advertise to bring in a stronger male presence. I just want my school to maintain the integrity it boasts of, not follow along in the same broken traditions that plague other campuses.