Multicultural Training Project

Karina L. Walters, Ph.D.

Darrell P. Wheeler, Ph.D., M.P.H.


The responsibility of the profession to generate culturally competent practitioners lies primarily with social work education and educators (Haynes & Singh, 1992). For nearly four decades, social work educators have emphasized the necessity for culturally competent practice (Van Soest, 1995). This emphasis on culturally competent practice is critical given that ethnic and racial minorities are expected to constitute over one-third of the population by the end of the 21st century (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990, cited in Yutrzenka, 1995). Moreover, it is expected that in cities such as New York and Los Angeles, the communities of color will outnumber European-Americans (i.e., White). Furthermore, the call for culturally competent practice has been codified in NASW's Code of Ethics (National Association of Social Workers, 1993) and in the Council on Social Work Education's Curriculum Policy Statement (Bisno, 1984). Finally, the call for culturally competent practice extends to professors' cultural competence in the classroom, given that the graduate social work student population has increased in diversity. Nearly one-third of the students enrolled in graduate education are members of culturally and ethnically diverse populations whereas most faculty are members of majority populations (i.e., White, upper-middle class, and male; Council on Social Work Education, 1980 & 1990).

The development and training of culturally competent social workers are consistent with the profession's mission of social justice and equity for all. The ethical, social, political, and professional reasons for implementing multicultural training in social work curricula are compelling. The integrity of social work's commitment to social justice is on the line if culturally competent practice is not instilled. The question that currently faces social work professional training programs is how are they implementing the cultural competence imperative and how proficient are social workers in acquiring multicultural competence? Toward this end, the Multicultural Training Project (MTP) offers a new empirical approach to understanding the relationship between different multicultural training models in social work and student's acquisition of culturally competent practice skills.

Project Aims

The MTP will significantly quench social work's thirst for empirical studies on the efficacy of multicultural training models given the deficiency of the current empirical knowledge base (Van Soest, 1995). The bulk of social work research on multicultural training consists of retrospective case studies. Moreover, social work researchers have not adequately examined multicultural training models, nor have they empirically investigated social work students' knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors regarding their own levels of multicultural competence and ultimately, how these levels of cultural competence affect practice interactions, treatment efficacy, and treatment outcomes (McMahon & Allen-Meares, 1992; Van Soest, 1994).

There are four specific aims of the MTP. The first aim is to explore students' levels of multicultural competence (i.e., where they are). The second aim is to investigate students' acquisition and incorporation of mulitcultural competence in terms of their skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors about race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, power, and privilege. Specifically, the study will describe how students incorporate professional standards of cultural inclusiveness into their social work training and manifest this competence in their practice with clients and their evaluations of peers and faculty. The third aim is to explore the efficacy of various multicultural training models in social work. The fourth aim is specific to CUSSW curriculum development. It is expected that the findings will provide information for the development of a multicultural training model to meet CUSSW curriculum needs.

Moreover, since this is a preliminary pre-intervention investigation, it is expected that the findings from this study will support future interventive research efforts for establishing the validity and reliability of multicultural measurements for social work students, testing particular social work cultural diversity training models, and eventually testing the relationships between culturally competent practice and service outcomes.

Study Design

The study employs both survey research, using a non-equivalent comparison group survey design, and content analysis methodologies. All incoming CUSSW students were given a battery of measures to asses their a priori status on knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and skills related to culture, race/ethnicity, class, sexual orientation (and others as appropriate). Student participation in the survey was voluntary across all sites. In addition to basic sociodemographics and racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation identity measures (as potential mediating or moderating variables) three scales used in counseling psychology were adapted. The scales represent a preliminary attempt to create valid cultural competency measures for social work practice and curriculum development. The three adapted outcome measures consist of the Multicultural Counseling Inventory (MCI) by Sodowsky, a subscale of the Multicultural Awareness and Knowledge Scale (MAKSS) by D'Andrea, and the Multicultural Competence, Awareness, and Skills (MCAS-B) scale by Ponterotto. The three measures have moderate to strong validity for assessing levels of culturally competent practice knowledge, awareness/attitudes, and skills among counseling psychologists.These attributes will be measured again at the conclusion of the 1996-1997 academic year. The literature supports the need to assess the possible presence of these relationships and to make accommodations for these in the social work students' learning experiences.

Second year CUSSW students will be used as a comparison group in the CUSSW segment of the study. First year students at four other graduate schools of social work will be mailed the same battery of measures at two time points which coincide with the administrations to CUSSW students (combined first and second year students, 735). The four other participating institutions (with their approximate first year enrollments) are: UCLA (96), University of Pittsburgh (196), Howard University (140) and Florida State University (65). Each of the participating schools will receive an analysis of their student responses. The survey has already been administered to CUSSW first year students with a 63% response rate (n=220). The co-investigators are hopeful that the response rate is comparable across the other sites.

To understand the current level of multicultural course content in each school content analysis of standard first year course outlines will be conducted. The investigators will be looking for specific references by courses or course content which reflects multicultural content.

Sharing this data with other faculty, administrators and professional colleagues in written and verbal formats will facilitate greater understanding of practice skills that may be incorporated into CUSSW's (and the profession's) curricula for multicultural competency.


Bisno, H. (1984). Conceptualizing social work practice in social work education. In M. Dinerman & L.L. Geismar (Eds.), A Quarter-century of social work education (pp. 47-89). Washington, D.C.: National Association of Social Workers.

Council on Social Work Education (1990). Statistics on social work education in the United States, 1989. New York: Author.

Haynes A. W., & Singh, R. N. (1992). Ethnic-sensitive social work practice: An integrated ecological, and psychodynamic approach. Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 2(2), 43-52.

McMahon, A., & Allen-Meares, P. (1992). Is social work racist? A content analysis of recent literature. Social Work, 37(6), 533-539.

National Association of Social Workers (1993). Code of Ethics (rev.). Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Van Soest, D. (1994). Social work education for multicultural practice and social justice advocacy: A field study of how students experience the learning process. Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 3(1), 17-28.

Van Soest, D. (1995). Multiculturalism and social work education: The non-debate about competing perspectives. Journal of Social Work Education, 31(1), 55-66.

Yutrzenska, B. (1995). Making a case for training in ethnic and cultural diversity in increasing treatment efficacy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 63(2), 197-206.