Evaluating the Level of Cultural Competence among graduate Social work (MSW)

Manoj Pardasani

Indiana University Northwest



This workshop will examine methods used at IUN to assess the level of cultural competence of students majoring in social work or psychology.  The presentation will examine differences in cultural competency between students categorized by study major, year in program, elective courses taken, race/ethnicity, practice experience, etc.   Implications for educators, practitioners and administrators will be addressed.



Social workers and psychologists must be prepared to work effectively and professionally in diverse environments with specific attention paid to cultural sensitivity and competence.  Cultural competence is the belief that professionals should not only appreciate and recognize differences among groups different from their own, but also work effectively with them (Sue, 1998).  The goal of cultural competence education, according to Ronnau (1994), is to enable students to embark on the process toward becoming multicultural.  Hoopes (1979) defines multiculturalism as “that state in which one has mastered the knowledge and developed the skills necessary to feel comfortable and communicate effectively with people of any culture encountered” (p. 31).  The objectives for cultural competence training of social workers and psychologists is two fold: (1) to increase the cross cultural awareness of the students; and, (2) to increase the self awareness of students to recognize and understand how their own culture and experiences shape their world view. 

The Council of Social Work Education requires that all educational programs at the Baccalaureate and Masters levels must “make specific, continuous efforts to provide a learning context in which understanding and respect for diversity (including age, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, national origin, race, religion, and sexual orientation) are practiced.” (Evaluative Standard 3.0, CSWE, 1994).  Similar criteria have been established for graduate study programs in psychology by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Schools of social work and psychology have responded to the need for creating culturally competent professionals by either incorporating content on culture, oppression and power (or lack thereof) within the overall course content, or have created separate courses to address the issues of diversity and cultural competence.  Regardless of the methodology, it is important to evaluate the level of cultural competence of social work and psychology students before they enter the field as professionals. 

Participants (students in the social work and psychology programs) were asked to complete the Multicultural Awareness, Knowledge and Skills Survey (MAKSS).  Based on their responses, an overall score for Cultural Competency was calculated for each respondent.  Respondents’ scores and individual responses to specific questions were compared to a number of variables such as gender, race/ethnicity, prior work/volunteer experience, number of credits earned, types of courses taken and study major.  In addition, a group of students who undertook a special elective course on Cultural Competency, were administered the same instrument pre and post-course.   Statistically significant differences were found between students for several variables.  The results of this study and the implications for educators and educational programs will be shared with participants at the workshop.


Council on Social Work Education. (1994).  Handbook of Accreditation Standards and

    Procedures (4th ed.).  Alexandria, VA: Author.

Hoopes, D. S. (1979).  Intercultural communication concepts and the psychology of

    multicultural experience.  In M. D. Pusch (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Cross

    Cultural Training Approach.   Intercultural Network, Inc.

 Ronnau, J. P. (1994).  Teaching cultural competence: Practical ideas for social work

    educators.  Journal of Multicultural Social Work, 3(1), 29-42.

 Sue, S. (1998).  In search of cultural competence in psychotherapy and counseling. 

    American Psychologist, 53(4Z), 440-448.