Internship Program Highlights Social Workers' Role in Democracy

Social work and democracy graphic
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Students at the UNC Charlotte School of Social Work are getting a first-hand look at how voting and democracy relate to their field of study thanks to a new internship. 

The project, created by emeritus professor Jim Dudley, joins a growing movement of schools of social work across the country identified with the slogan, “Voting is Social Work.” The movement helps students better understand the processes that create and shape social welfare policies and programs, according to Dudley.

D’Atra Davis, a second-year social work master’s student, was selected as UNC Charlotte’s first social work and democracy intern.

“We are educating others about the importance of voting and the importance of participation in our democracy,  touching on issues such as voter suppression, voter registration difficulties and the electoral college. Not only are we educating individuals about democracy, we are wanting to empower them through it,” she said.

This year's record high voter turnout made apparent the difference advocates across all fields can make in voter participation.

Over her first semester in the role, Davis collaborated with nonprofit organizations on voting, prepared students to register to vote, established a speaker’s bureau on democracy and voting for faculty to use in their classes and assisted the field instructor in conducting a research study on the views and practices of social work students.

Through their regular contact with vulnerable populations who often have limited access to information about voting, social workers can play an important role in preserving a healthy democracy.

The new internship helps students gain greater awareness of that role and the importance of participation in the process as social workers. It also connects to core skills in the field such as community outreach, documentation, group work, interviewing, policy analysis, research and supportive counseling. 

“I want to help students in social work consider the relationships among voting, democracy and social work. Among the outcomes that I am anticipating are that students will better understand that voting is a social work issue, that they’ll discover the importance of macro practice, and that they’ll recognize the importance of empowering clients,” Dudley said. 

Next semester Davis and Dudley will evaluate their efforts by sending out questionnaires to students. They will begin examining, in more depth, problems that clients have encountered with issues including voter registration and suppression. 

“This internship has opened my eyes to how much social workers should be involved in the political process to make real change for the clients that we serve. Dr. Dudley is a great leader who allows me to explore but is always there to help me if I need it. This internship has heightened my awareness and passion for voting practices in this country,” Davis said.