U-M social work grad students crusade against unpaid internship mandate

March 29, 2022, 1:02 PM

Graduate students should be paid for professional internships that are required, insist over 300 future social workers at the University of Michigan.

Anjelica Abraham, whose field work is in Midtown Detroit, expects to earn her master's in December. (Photo: LinkedIn)

Two months after the master's degree students petitioned their dean, about 80 of them walked out of classes and rallied on the campus Diag, The Michigan Daily reported.

Anjelica Abraham, a MSW student and one of the speakers at the walkout, told the crowd that balancing a paid job with her unpaid field work causes a lot of stress. Abraham said she is currently working to complete her field work at Kids-TALK Children’s Advocacy Center in Detroit. ...

"I'm tired of having to juggle two part-time jobs on top of class work, on top of field [work] and with an 85-mile round trip multiple times a week," Abraham said. "I’m tired of working 12 hours a day, six days a week."

"We're fighting," says Arie Davey, co-chair of Payments for Placements. (Photo: LinkedIn)

"All social work students deserve to be paid for their work," declares a call to action from the Payments for Placements movement, which urges "doing away with unpaid field placements." It suggests $20 an hour as "a just payment rate for social work students in field" assignments.

Twelve percent of the social workers-in-training are paid by field employers, school figures show.

If employers don't pay, the student group says, "the university ... is capable of financing the entirety of Payment for Placements via its unrestricted endowment funds." The group's document adds:

One does not have to look far for examples of students being paid for their degree-required work.

In fact, we only need to look one block down South University Avenue at the University of Michigan Law School, and a few blocks farther at the Ford School of Public Policy.  Both schools’ payment programs demonstrate that paying students for their degree-required work is doable.

U-M requires 684 hours of field work over three semester for a master's in social work if students majored in that field as undergrads. Newcomers need 912 hours of field work.

"Most MSW [master's of social work] students perform tasks in their field placements which are, for all intents and purposes, the same as those of their field sites' paid employees," the group says in a separate one-page statement.

And all field students forgo other work opportunities to engage in 16-24 of field work per week. That the majority of these students are not paid for their time severely inhibits students' ability to pay for their living expenses without taking out additional loans or finding a job on top of field work and coursework.

In effect, this status quo is also an economic barrier preventing low-income people from pursuing an MSW degree.

Dan Fischer: "Students are unlicensed." (Photo: U-M)

A university response comes from Dan Fischer, assistant dean of field education in the School of Social Work, whose email to the campus paper says:

"Students are unlicensed professionals and would not be able to engage in MSW-level work.

"Field placements also provide opportunities for students to discover new ideas or to think about themselves and their own values, prejudices, and attitudes towards others while learning to manage emotions and feelings within real-world settings.

"No other health sciences professional program at U-M, including medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy, pays students for clinical training, recognizing the critical impact of experiential learning."

Read more:  The Michigan Daily

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