How Social Systems are Impacted by Race and Gender

This episode of Michigan Minds features Beth Glover Reed, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work and Women’s and Gender Studies. Reed’s research focuses on how to define and work for social justice, barriers to this work, and how to reduce these barriers. Reed discusses how assumptions and practices related to gender, race/ethnicity and other status characteristics impact how social systems work and also our systems of knowledge and that we have to work hard to see them. She describes two important methods for illuminating how injustice is recreated and developing actions that work to further justice. These include critical intersectionality approaches, focused on justice and how power works, and praxis to engage deeply in the connections between theorizing and action.

One area for her current research is to identify approaches being developed by innovative programs and practitioners for working on alcohol and other drug (AOD)-related issues and intimate partner violence (IPV)—to identify what is working and to explore why joint work occurs infrequently despite need. She explains how these two systems are differently gendered, with earlier substance abuse models mostly developed by men, focused historically on consequences of addiction that happened more often in men than women. The IPV field arose from feminist activism with a pretty seriously gendered analysis of the causes and consequences of IPV. Over time, the AOD field has worked to be defined as a behavioral health issue, while the IPV field has emphasized that violence against women is a crime, not just a private family matter. Thus, different funding and regulatory mechanisms have evolved. There are two fields that have a lot of assumptions built into them—not on purpose, but because of who developed them and what kinds of problems or goals they were trying to tackle. Those working to address both AOD and IPV have to understand and navigate both paradigms and a substantial number of barriers.

Reed shares how her work at the U-M School of Social Work supports her research in Women’s and Gender Studies and at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG). She describes how both the social work and women’s studies fields care about justice and change for justice and expands on the areas in which her teaching and research unites both.

“Women’s and feminist studies programs have made profound changes within academia and prepare a lot of people to go out and work for changing the world but they are especially strong in theorizing patterns and sources of inequities and different patterns of opportunities and consequences. Social work is a professional school—so it’s very focused on training people to go out and do things and about addressing problems and changing goals directly. ”

The month of March celebrates Social Work Month. As faculty at the School of Social Work, Reed shares the importance of recognizing the research and impact of those in the field of social work. She explains how social workers are in the world doing things and social work researchers are out there studying the process of doing things. “They’re out there on the front lines tackling things that other people don’t even want to admit exist, let alone get out there and try and work on them—and they’re frontline workers. The students we train are critically important and undervalued within the larger society.”
March also celebrates Women’s History Month—as a faculty member who has a research concentration on feminism and social justice, Reed highlights the importance of putting emphasis on the impact women have had in communities throughout history. “Social work was actually heavily developed by women more than most professions—not entirely by women—but there were a lot of really important women in the history of the development of social work and many more women who come to school to be social workers.”