Critical Empowerment Frameworks Paramount to Social Justice Work


  • Maria Joy Ferrera DePaul University
  • Sonya Crabtree-Nelson



structural competency, social justice, human rights, transdisciplinary


As we continue to navigate the complex challenges of a pandemic and the urgent need for racial justice, social work faculty are well positioned to train the next generation of social workers in human rights work and structural change movements. Authors discuss how engaging key critical empowerment frameworks that include critical race theory, structural competency, together with a decolonizing and transdisciplinary lens within community-engaged research and practice can provide social work students models for collective impact. Leveraging university-community partnerships to directly provide faculty mentorship around human rights work will also be discussed. One author has been working with the institution’s law school and their Neighborhood Legal Assistance Project to provide support, legal resources, and advocacy. She has also co-founded and is developing a Chicago-based coalition to address intimate partner violence-induced brain injury. The second author has helped start and develop two coalitions to advance a coordinated structural response involving the provision of mental health resource support and psychosocial forensic asylum assessments within immigrant communities. Authors also discuss how students have been engaged in health equity work through a racial and healing justice initiative that values and provides training around healing circles within indigenous communities and communities of color. Through these rich learning experiences, students internalize the value of critical empowerment frameworks that inform participatory approaches in collaboration and coalition building that are essential to social justice work and the process of social and structural change.


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