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  • Writer's pictureJenna Rines

Introducing the Post-Graduate Certificate in Social Work and Environmental Justice

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

Welcome to the Institute for Social Work and Environmental Justice (ISWEJ)! We hope to use this blog to share news of current and upcoming projects, as well as explore innovative and emerging topics at the intersection of social work and environmental justice.

For our first article, we will explore the work of the ISWEJ through its inaugural Post-Graduate Certificate in Environmental Justice and Social Work at Adelphi University. With its first cohort of 13 students wrapping up in December, this program explores how social work principles, practices, and research contribute to advancements in environmental justice.

Led by Dr. Kelly Smith, Founder and Director of the ISWEJ, classes are two hours long held weekly for 12 weeks. Through an inquiry-based teaching method, Dr. Smith introduces the concept of environmental justice through a wide range of practice settings, and guides the class through reflective group discussions. With topics ranging in scope from micro to macro levels, the class is challenged to consider practice, policy, and research implications from a variety of angles.

Topics explored in the current cohort are as follows:

Week 1: Drawing connections between traditional social work goals, climate science, and environmental justice

Week 2: History of social work environmental advocacy

Week 3: Climate Thinking & Multi-Solving

Week 4: Mental Health, Environmental Justice, and Wellbeing

Week 5: Disaster Impacts and Spirals of Vulnerability

Week 6: Homelessness, Migration, and the Climate Crisis

Week 7: Climate Impacts on Food Security

Week 8: Child Welfare and Environmental Justice

Week 9: Returning Citizens and Smart Decarceration

Week 10: Climate Impact and the Gender Gap

Week 11: Aging Populations and the Climate Crisis

Week 12: Achieving Equal Opportunity and Environmental Justice

Drawing from the foundational work of social work practitioners and scholars at the frontlines of environmental justice work, students are encouraged to expand their view of their profession to consider the inclusion and protection of our physical environment. The compatibility of social work values and practices with environmental justice principles are highlighted, and students have the opportunity to explore what it would look like to creatively apply their own professional lens to big environmental issues such as the climate crisis, food insecurity, and extreme weather events.

But why should social workers care about practicing with the environment in mind? We know social workers are champions of social justice issues in their communities, providing their skills in assessment, facilitation, clinical practice, and collaboration to highlight voices of the marginalized groups they work with. Scholars have expanded these skills into the realm of environmental justice to demonstrate the responsibility social care practitioners have given the inextricable link between human well-being and that of their environment (Dominelli, 2013). As Meredith Powers (2017) identifies, “Environmental issues are undeniably connected to social justice issues for humans”, placing many of our current societal and global issues squarely in the realm of expertise for social workers.

Although social workers are not yet universally recognized or included as partners in environmental justice projects and initiatives, the Post-Graduate Certificate in Environmental Justice and Social Work provides students with an opportunity to connect with thought leaders and environmental justice pioneers via guest lectures in order to conceptualize what practicing with an expanded scope and understanding of social work could look like.

The program also aims to leave students with practical tools with which to take back to their respective communities. Through coursework and a non-disposable assignment, students are supported to develop and present a possible environmental intervention that they can apply to their population or work. Students are challenged to consider what environmental justice in social work looks like to them, and how they might adapt similar practices in their work moving forward. Interdisciplinary collaboration and engaging with groups that traditionally have not worked with social care workers is a significant consideration, and this course supports students to ask big questions that center the experiences of the vulnerable populations they serve in resulting solutions.

Dr. Smith is looking forward to hosting the next cohort of the Post-Graduate Certificate in Environmental Justice and Social Work in 2021. Should you have any questions about course offerings or details, please reach out to us via the ISWEJ contact form on our website. You can also use this form to sign up for our newsletter to hear about future trainings and events.

If you can spare a few minutes, we would love your feedback on how you might like to get more engaged with the ISWEJ through this form.

Thank you for reading!



Powers, M. C. F. (2017). "Establishing a professional career that addresses the environmental crisis." In K. van Wormer & F. H. Besthorn, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Macro Level: Groups, Communities and Organizations (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

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