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Summer 1998
Social Evolution

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Perhaps the best short summation of the changes that have overtaken social work over the past 50 years was one I overheard at a recent Council on Social Work program. "We knew psychotherapy," observed one veteran. "They know computers." The observation provoked a hearty laugh. But having witnessed the changes myself, I know there is more than a grain of truth in it.

But some things remain constant. The department's focus on issues affecting the most vulnerable, disadvantaged populations is as strong today as it was in 1958. Social work is still a profession largely peopled by women, who make up about 80 percent of our current students. And despite the lasting impact of the upheavals of the 1960s, clinical practice remains the most popular course of study. The need for trained social workers is still great: The U.S. Labor Department projects there will be more than 650,000 social workers by the year 2005, an increase of more than 30 percent.

Regrettably, the challenges we face remain constant as well. I remember lecturing the entering M.S.W. class of 1995 on the first day of a class titled, appropriately, Group Conflict. Suddenly, in the middle of the session, word of the verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial arrived. Black students rose to their feet and applauded; other students remained in their seats, looking stunned, even shocked. It was clear the divisions of race and ethnicity raised more than three decades ago in the Watts riots were still very much with us.

But at least we are no longer surprised by them. And who knows, those students searching for answers within the Department of Social Welfare just may solve them.

Harry Kitano is professor emeritus of social welfare and sociology.

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