Exploring Challenges Faced by Students as they Transition to Social Justice Work in the “Real World”: Implications for Social Work


  • Katie Richards-Schuster University of Michigan
  • Mary C. Ruffolo University of Michigan
  • Kerri Leyda Nicoll Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
  • Catherine Distelrath University of Michigan
  • Joseph Galura University of Michigan
  • Alice Mishkin University of Michigan




social justice, higher education administration, social work, community organization, social action


For students who are actively engaged in social justice efforts on their college/university campuses, the transition from a relatively easy platform for engagement to the “real world” can pose significant challenges and create new realities for negotiation. Little is known, however, about the nature of these transitions into post-graduate social justice experiences. Drawing on an open-ended survey of recent graduates (92 respondents, 50% response rate) from a social justice minor in a school of social work, we explore the ways in which respondents described their transitions into social justice work, focusing on a set of key challenges that emerged from our analysis and reflecting on the implications of these challenges for social work practice and future research. Understanding some of the challenges in making this transition will help social work and non-profit administrators to better support this population’s future volunteer, service, and employment needs.

Author Biographies

Katie Richards-Schuster, University of Michigan

School of Social Work

Mary C. Ruffolo, University of Michigan

School of Social Work

Kerri Leyda Nicoll, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Social Work

Catherine Distelrath, University of Michigan

School of Social Work

Joseph Galura, University of Michigan

School of Social Work

Alice Mishkin, University of Michigan

School of Social Work