By Razmik Cañas & William Ramirez
As the sun rose over Fresno State’s Peace Garden Tuesday, there was little peace among a group of social work students who crowded together to share concerns about their department.
The students walked out of classes in response to admission decisions made on April 10 by the master of social work department for the 2018-19 graduate program.
The protesting students are upset because they think their major isn’t adequately represented in their own graduate program.
The alleged reason: Too many undergraduate social work majors are not meeting the standards set for the graduate program.
There are 122 students in the current master of social work program. Social work department faculty said last week that about one-third of the 122 had earned undergraduate degrees in social work.
The remaining two-thirds come from other disciplines, including sociology and psychology.
Based on this math, the master of social work program in the past has admitted about 60 new students per year. Tuesday’s protest was sparked in part when students learned that only 45 new students would be admitted to the master of social work program for the 2018-19 year.
James Borunda, president of the Social Work Student Association, said he thinks the department may have decided there weren’t enough qualified candidates to give 60 undergraduate students a shot at social work graduate school.
Borunda led Tuesday’s walkout. But quotas weren’t the only issue that upset Borunda and the protestors.
The protesters also want social work students with bachelors degrees to get more of the increasingly rare slots in the social work graduate program.
It’s the “one-third” figure – only about 40 of the 122 social work masters students currently in the program come from the social work department – that most angered the protestors.
The protesters said one-third is not a fair representation of the social work department, and that rejected students from the program will likely be set back in their education.
“One-third is absurd,” chanted about 30 students.
Yet, the one-third figure may not be absurd. The students also were concerned about alleged comments made by social work faculty about the quality of undergraduate social work students.
In other words, the social work faculty are alleged to have admitted either they or someone else isn’t doing their job.
“If we’re not qualified, who’s to blame for that?” said Borunda, who was one of the fortunate ones in his discipline to be accepted to graduate school next year. “Right now it’s a lot of speculation because there’s no transparency.”
In a news release, the protestors allege some among the social work faculty said “psychology and sociology majors are better writers than us.”
During the rally, the students publicly delivered three proposals for the department. Borunda shouted them through the megaphone.
First, the students called for eliminating the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) exam as a requirement for the graduate program.
The students said that the exam is often a financial barrier and a biased assessment for some students, considering some students are not accustomed to the writing style of the exam.
The second proposal, which the students called “Teach Us to WRITE, Like Soc. and Psych” was to establish a social work writing course to better prepare graduates for the type of writing they will do in their field. Students said there are currently no classes that focus on applying the specific writing skills.
The final proposal was to address the small percentage of bachelor of social work graduates admitted into the masters program.
Zoyer Zyndel, a master of social work graduate, said he felt like he had an edge on the bachelor of social work applicants because he was an English major.
“I didn’t have the best GPA. I actually was on academic probation and they still took me,” Zyndel said. “I really believe it was because my bachelors (degree) was in English.”
According to the department of social work, there are currently 277 students in the undergraduate social work major.
“(Bachelor of social work) graduates deserve greater representation and opportunity in obtaining a master’s level degree in our dedicated profession,” read a portion of the students’ statement.
The department for social work declined to comment on the walkout and student protest when The Collegian asked questions Tuesday. The Collegian also reached out to Fresno State administration for a comment, but they did not respond by deadline.