Erika Cruz and Rosio Ochoa, Master of Social Work students at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) have applied their knowledge of Critical Race Studies (CRS) in the field so well that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) tapped them as guest writers for a district newsletter.
Cruz and Ochoa, who have been serving as psychiatric social work interns at South Gate Senior High since August 2015 through LAUSD’s School of Mental Health program, penned the short piece “Interns Perspective: Viewing Social Issues through a New Lens” for the March 2016 issue of LAUSD’s Student Health and Human Services Department’s e-newsletter.
“I was excited to learn that we were going to be in the newsletter. It was a challenge and I was willing to take it,” said Cruz, a South Gate resident who would like to work for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the Adolescent Division when she finishes college. “It gave us an opportunity to speak about how great our [CSUDH] program is and let people know what we’re working on.”
The duo have applied a variety of techniques using the “CRS perspective” in collaboration with support staff at the high school to help students, and to gain the hands-on practical knowledge that comes with working in the field. They refer to CRS in their story as a “critical examination of society, culture and intersectionality is the overlapping of social identities such as race, class and gender.”
“CRS not only focuses on traditional systems of influence, but also on the systems of oppression that have a significant impact on individual outcomes,” wrote Cruz and Ochoa in the piece. “It reminds us that society’s ideologies and power hierarchies may influence our understanding of an individual as a whole.”
Ochoa and Cruz said that through their internship they are learning “the importance of a school social worker within a school setting.”
In September, Ochoa and Cruz participated in a restorative justice conference where they worked with three male students who had been involved in a “verbal conflict.” They applied a “co-participation model” they learned from faculty member, Joshua Bender within a CRS context that helped them determine that the confrontation spawned from an “underlying issue,” the language barrier.
“Dr. Bender, always tells us to imagine the students not as our “clients” — that we are each co-participants in understanding. So, in practice, we have to meet them where they are, on their level. In this, we use co-participation as a practice modality so they can learn from us and we can learn from them,” said Ochoa, a Los Angeles resident who hopes to work for the Department of Child and Family Services after college.
“Even though they all three were Hispanic, they all came from different countries. While a word one student used was okay in his culture, the same word was an insult in another. Something was lost in the translation,” added Ochoa. “We broke it down for them and let them know it was nothing personal. Then we asked each student to define what the word meant to them personally. They realized that what was said was unintentionally offensive. We can thank our critical race theory training for that.”
The students also use “intersectionality” in their work to identify the “uniqueness” of students based on their “environmental systems,” which is developed in their families, at school and within the community they live.
“We tend to use intersectionality when working with teenagers because they have a lot of different identity traits to touch on and address,” said Cruz. “They really can’t just say, ‘You know, I’m just a teenager.’ We have to deal with their race, their gender, their sexual orientation and other overlapping character traits. So we try to help them with each one of their identities. It can be challenging to address them all.”
Ochoa looks forward to moving forward with her training at CSUDH and growing with the young people they help in schools and the community.
“Critical race theory and intersectionality is teaching us about society and the ideologies that society holds,” she said. “It makes us who we are and it helps shape how we treat others. It really has helped me identify who I am as a person, and who I want to be.”