Not every learning experience happens inside a classroom. Our group has now been in Mexico for over two months, and we have enjoyed countless opportunities to learn from not just our classes, but from a wide range of speakers and visits. We have spoken with social workers in several settings, several representatives of government social welfare programs, and community leaders and organizers from Cuernavaca, Amatlan, and Tlamacazapa. All of these speakers have been our teachers; their unique experiences and insights from the work they have done in their communities helps us, as social work students, to reflect on the many different ways to work toward positive change.
With all of these rich experiences, it has also been very important that we take the time to reflect on what we have been learning. On Wednesday, the social work students, as well as our professor, Hillary, and our TA, Stephanie, went to the Zócalo together. We first split up, finding our own spots around the Zócalo to observe our surroundings and reflect on our experiences by ourselves. Then, we met together to debrief at a café and talk about the various “lenses” through which we see the world, including the lenses of race, class, and gender. We also talked about what lenses we must put on when working with clients – for example, the strength-based perspective, cultural responsiveness, and understanding of how oppression impacts the delivery of services.
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire wrote in Pedogogy of the Oppressed that education has the potential to become “the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” This sort of education is necessary for us as future social work professionals so that we are prepared to partner with clients and communities in order to work together toward meaningful and lasting change. I think that an important part of this education is to recognize how our “lenses” impact us. When working with clients, through what other lenses must we look? What lenses do we not even realize we are wearing, and how does this affect how we work with clients?