A Mixed-Methods Study of the Experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color MSW Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sep 15, 2023

social work research journal

COVID-19 caused an unprecedented global pandemic that unmasked inequities in higher education. The pandemic interrupted conventional methods of learning and significantly changed the field of higher education. Universities were prompted to replace face-to-face lectures with online learning platforms. The extent to which the pandemic affected the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) graduate students is lesser known, particularly for those who attend predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

An article in a recent issue of the journal Social Work Research seeks to fill in some of this gap in information. The purpose of the mixed-methods study detailed in the article was to examine the experiences of BIPOC MSW students in a predominantly white institution in the Northeast during the pandemic and how it affected their mental health.

The article:

  • examines the experiences of BIPOC MSW students during the pandemic in the classroom, in their field placement, and their personal lives;
  • illuminates how the pandemic impacted their mental health; and
  • outlines resources that they accessed to cope with the effects of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the study highlighted and uplifted the voices of racially minoritized students as they navigate social work graduate education while trying to survive a global pandemic.

The findings presented in the article were drawn from 29 students who participated in online surveys and focus groups. About 69% of the sample experienced psychological distress, with higher proportions among those who identified as Latine/Latinx, womxn, straight, first-generation, full-time and part-time students, and clinical students.

Qualitative findings highlighted three main themes:

  1. the experiences and needs of white MSW students were prioritized,
  2. inconsistencies in the response to the pandemic forced students to advocate for themselves in their classes and field placements, and
  3. virtual learning provided a reprieve for students from experiencing racism that helped improve their perceived well-being.

The findings indicate that MSW programs need to commit to acknowledging how systemic racism affects the learning experiences of BIPOC MSW students, work toward dismantling these oppressive structures, and allocate resources that center the health and well-being of BIPOC students and their lived experiences.


Dale Dagar Maglalang, PhD, MA, MSW, MPH, assistant professor, Silver School of Social Work, New York University

Abril N. Harris, PhD, MSW, assistant professor, School of Social Work, University of Washington

Ty B. Tucker, MSW, PhD candidate, School of Social Work, Boston College

Tyrone M. Parchment, PhD, LCSW, assistant professor, School of Social Work, Boston College

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NASW journals are co-published by NASW Press and Oxford University Press. The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & SchoolsHealth & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. Learn more about the journals and subscriptions.

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