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Social Work Action Network (SWAN) Conference 2018 (Part 1)

Posted: Monday 4th June 2018

 

As part of the Student Success Project we provide funding to members of staff and students who attend a variety of sector conferences relating to the attainment gap. Here are a some thoughts by Brunel University London student Yousuf Rafiudin, who attended the SWAN national conference.

By Yousuf Rafiudin

This year’s SWAN national conference titled “Whose side are we on? Social Work, Austerity, Racism and Resistance!” was hosted by the University of Essex in Southend and the biggest conference to date. The conference itself was a 2-day event between the 20th of April to the 21st of April.

The conference allowed a great opportunity to network with fellow social work students, social workers and other professionals and enabled me to get a greater insight into the wider world of social work. There were various workshops throughout the conference allowing those in attendance to further expand their knowledge. One workshop that I found particularly interesting was by Garfield Hunt (University of Suffolk – Social Work lecturer) who discussed his research on the topic of racism and how this affected BAME students experience at university and why they were not identifying themselves with their culture. Garfield went on to highlight that his research found that BAME students focused on what they felt were structural inequalities within the university which they felt put them at a disadvantage to their fellow ethnic white students who made up the majority of the class. 

Consequently, the BAME students felt they were being discriminated against and a feeling of isolation was apparent among the BAME students’ experience at university as they said others would make them aware of their difference – for example, in reference to some of the students having an accent.  In addition, some of the BAME students felt they were unable to express themselves properly in class discussion or written work because there existed that fear of being judged. 

I found this very eye-opening as I come from a Pakistani/Indian background. However, the demographic of my class is quite the opposite and is mainly made up of BAME students and therefore might be the reason why quite honestly there has not been an occasion where my ethnic difference has led to me questioning whether what I say will lead to me being judged and a sense of isolation.

In addition, Dora Teloni a professor at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens gave a lecture on austerity in Greece and what the implications were for refugees. Dora discussed how Europe “welcomes” refugees but their policies end up resulting in refugees feeling repressed and intimidated. I found this lecture very insightful as Dora explained that the current so-called refugee crisis is not something that is new but rather a consequence of foreign policy mainly referring to the recent war in Syria but also in Iraq and Afghanistan. She went on to explain the difficulties that are faced by the refugees on arrival to Greece such as many families having no access to the health care system and children not having any access to state education.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting back on my experience at the conference I feel that this should be an experience for all social work students to attend simply because of the various people and organisations that are present who can offer an insight into the Social Work sphere. This I feel for students would be a priceless experience to be able to hear from experienced professionals from various backgrounds discussing a range of topics relevant to social work but also being able to share an event with people who have a similar passion for making a difference in other people’s lives. I feel attending events such as the SWAN conference to me reinforces the rewarding nature of being a social worker, which at times can be very stressful and underappreciated.