Unsettling Human Rights History in Social Work Education: Seeing Intersectionality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Social workers must locate their work within the history of our profession, while also recognizing how and why particular accounts are constructed, legitimized, and disseminated. The historical context of human rights work is especially significant. This narrative has been shaped by selective attention, which advances some perspectives and erases others. Intersectionality encourages scrutiny of missing elements, calling one to explore what else was happening concurrent with the mainstream account and whose perspectives are absent from the story. This paper illustrates the value of an intersectional frame by examining three erasures from human rights history in social work: the Combahee River Collective, the Black settlement house movement, and the Compton’s Cafeteria Disturbance. The paper closes with implications for social work education in four areas: deconstructing contemporary social work narratives, investigating historical and cultural locations of our knowledge base, theoretically contextualizing intersectional contributions, and respecting intellectual contributions beyond refereed journals and other traditional formats. Intersectionality theory engages marginalized aspects of human rights history in educating professional social workers; however, it must avoid cooptation to maintain its vibrant critique.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-107
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Human Rights and Social Work
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Education
  • Erasure
  • History
  • Human rights
  • Intersectionality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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