In the Curriculum

SP2 is committed to increasing the ideological and structural diversity that inform life and learning at the School. We believe that students become the most effective scholars and practitioners when they are exposed to a variety of perspectives and approaches. Our diverse and talented faculty are substantive experts who teach by example: skilled practitioners, inspirational teachers, and world class scholars.

We make a conscious effort to create educational environments where students learn from faculty and staff who both reflect their identities and lend new perspectives on race, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality, gender, age, academic background, political beliefs, and more. To reflect both the populations we serve and our student bodies, we actively recruit faculty and staff from historically under – represented and marginalized communities. We also make concerted efforts to retain our faculty and teaching staff by providing them with individual and group mentoring within the School and across the University.

The Penn Experience: Racism, Reconciliation, and Engagement

Launched in 2020, this non-credit asynchronous course, consisting of six modules, aims to establish common basic language and concepts for incoming graduate and professional students to facilitate subsequent difficult conversations about race, racism, and difference in the classroom and beyond. Using video interviews, presentations, short readings and podcasts, the course highlights the significance of Penn and Philadelphia’s history of racism and other forms of oppression, Penn’s evolving relationship to West Philadelphia, and Penn’s efforts toward greater engagement and inclusion. Modules also focus on implicit bias, intercultural communication gender identity and disparities in healthcare. A final module was designed primarily to address the antiracist work that must be done to dismantle white supremacy.

All incoming SP2 master’s students are expected to spend 20 or more hours reviewing the six modules and completing short assessments prior to starting the fall semester. Other graduate and professional schools will assign modules to be completed based on their schools requirements.

Racial Affinity Groups

Racial affinity groups—sometimes called “caucuses” or “accountability groups”—allow people to address issues relating to racism with others in the same racial group. This approach aims to provide Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) with affirming spaces to learn about internalized racism, racial stress, and other topics focused on their learning needs rather than the learning needs of whites. And affinity groups allow white people to address topics like white privilege, white savior complex, and white supremacy without burdening BIPOC.

For the first time in 2020, we are using racial affinity groups within the MSW racism sequence, through SWRK 603: American Racism in Social Work practice. For years, students of color have expressed concerns about the emotional labor SWRK 603 required of them and its focus on the needs of white students rather than their own learning needs. We continue to have students across race/ethnicity enrolled in the same sections of SWRK 603, but in addition to class, they are participating in affinity groups with fellow Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian, multiracial, and white students. Students in the white affinity groups will work through the journaling prompts in Layla Saad’s book Me and White Supremacy while students of color will do their own journaling based on topics of mutual interest and concern.

At this point, only students in the MSW program are required to participate in racial affinity groups. Students in our other master’s programs (MSSP and NPL) have created voluntary white affinity groups and white staff and faculty have also been invited to participate in affinity groups. These voluntary groups are using Me and White Supremacy to guide their discussions.

To learn more or to participate in a racial affinity group, email Amy Hillier at

Program Curriculums

SP2’s focus on social justice demands an interdisciplinary, intersectional, and engaged commitment to recognizing and valuing the innumerable identities, experiences, histories, and aspirations that animate our local and global community. This commitment permeates all five of our rigorous degree programs (MSW, MSSP, NPL, DSW, and PhD), helping to bind those programs to SP2’s comprehensive mission: producing the best social service providers, policymakers, and nonprofit leaders in the world.

Master of Social Work

The Master of Social Work (MSW) program makes a conscious and deliberate effort to create an educational environment that values diversity and views such diversity as a major strength in preparing social work professionals and promoting a just society. The hallmark of our program is the racism sequence, which consists of the courses SWRK 603: American Racism and Social Work Practice and SWRK 713: Understanding Social Change: Issues of Race and Gender. SWRK 603, taken in the first year, prepares students to consider diverse issues throughout their coursework, while SWRK 713 is the capstone course in the final semester of our program, which asks students to synthesize their MSW learning process to reflect on, discuss, and engage with the notion that power creates racial and other disparities in communities and groups. Questions of diversity in its myriad and intersecting forms are infused throughout the MSW curriculum, and countless field placement opportunities are available for MSW students to work with diverse populations within and outside of Philadelphia. In keeping with the interdisciplinary mission of the School, elective courses such as SWRK 798: LGBTQ Communities and Social Policy and SWRK 741: Gender and Social Policy are open to master’s-level students across program lines. Indeed, they are open to the entire University.

Master of Science in Social Policy

The Master of Science in Social Policy (MSSP) program focuses on increasing equality, promoting equity, and forging policy change. All MSSP courses contain material that focuses student attention on the ways that policy inequities and inadequacies disproportionately impact particular populations in the U.S., by income, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or other marginalizing constructs. Students also focus papers and assignments in several of the courses on social problems of particular concern to them, which often include concerns about exclusion because of sexual orientation, gender biases, family origin, and racism, as well as on human rights issues both in the US and abroad. Students learn evidence – based advocacy and policy formation, implementation, and evaluation skills that prepare them to combat the inequities, inequalities, and inadequacies they research. The internship, the culminating project of the program, allows students to implement their skills in various settings.

Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership

The Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) program aims to prepare leaders to understand the role nonprofit organizations play in solving complex human problems and the ways in which these organizations can create positive social change. Many NPL courses include discussions, assignments, and projects focused on how nonprofits and social enterprises can address issues connected to income, race, gender and the challenges faced by marginalized populations. Students also select topics for assignments based on social, economic and policy issues connected to their passions and commitments, both in the United States and globally. Additionally, the NPL program’s diverse faculty imbues the courses with an awareness and concern for the importance of diversity in nonprofits and social enterprises. Full-time students complete practicums with and part-time students are often employed by nonprofits that are working with underserved communities in and around Philadelphia.

PhD in Social Welfare

The PhD in Social Welfare educates a new generation of scholars, teachers, and leaders. Students are taught by a diverse group of faculty from across the School and University. The Program offers a confluence of diverse philosophies and approaches to social work, social welfare research, social policy, social theory, and social justice. Questions of diversity animate the curriculum, illuminated through both elective coursework across the University and critical SP2 offerings on the philosophy, history, and policy of social welfare. Throughout their time in the PhD program, students are taught how to carefully analyze social problems in order to understand difference and propose effective, research-based solutions.

Doctorate in Clinical Social Work

The Doctorate in Clinical Social Work (DSW) prepares leaders in social work practice who produce and disseminate practice knowledge and educate the next generation of social work practitioners. Woven throughout the DSW curriculum is a critical stance that compels students to question complex social polarities such as authority and subjugation, privilege and privation, and diversity and uniformity, which reflect the social conditions and problems with which social work is most acutely concerned. Students are taught to recognize structural barriers and inequities that produce and perpetuate discrimination and oppression and to develop strategies to both address and educate people about these injustices. The DSW program’s curricular offerings enable students to focus on the practices and populations about which they are passionate, from culturally competent supervision and training within the discipline itself, to the intersection of race, class, sexuality, and gender in clinical practice, to serving families, children, and youth in inner city contexts. Intersectional and multicultural considerations form the foundation of the DSW program and shape both the pedagogy and the practice of its alumni.

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