Northwest Nazarene University: Faith in Social Work Education

Schools of Social Work

Dr. Lawanna Pierce, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and social work professor, talks about the differences and challenges for social work education at the Idaho faith-based university, as well as adding an online option.

How is faith treated in social work bachelor’s and master’s education at your Christian university?
For our students of faith, it’s partly about helping them think outside their comfort zone. We try to help them appreciate that not everyone who walks in their door is going to be from a faith tradition, let alone their own. So it’s having them think about, this isn’t about who you are as a social worker; it’s about who your client is.

How about with students who aren’t religious?
Then it can be more about helping those students think about, what does it look like if I have a person of faith in my office—because a fair number of them will—and how do I focus on what’s important to that client?

What are some challenges to the faith-based educational approach?
I teach a diversity class, and the relationship between faith and the experience of LGBTQ+ individuals is tough; LGBTQ+ populations have often not had good experiences with faith groups. So that is something we really talk through, with an emphasis on how important it is to understand the reality of “religious trauma.”

students in a lecture classroom

Any new developments in your program?
Last fall we added an online synchronous track. It was the first time we’d accepted students from other parts of the country without expecting them to travel to Idaho and live here for the length of the program. It’s really a first step toward our goal of implementing a fully online option by fall 2025.

Pictured at right: The tech-focused university has a fully online option for the social work program coming by fall 2025

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