The Mission of the School

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is dedicated to working toward a more just and humane society through research, teaching, and service to the community. As one of the oldest and most highly regarded graduate schools of social work, SSA prepares professionals to handle society's most difficult problems by developing new knowledge, promoting a deeper understanding of the causes and human costs of social inequities, and building bridges between rigorous research and the practice of helping individuals, families, and communities to achieve a better quality of life.

Guiding Principles of the SSA Master's Curriculum

The SSA curriculum promotes social justice through its commitment to pluralism, rigorous inquiry, engaged interdisciplinary scholarship, integrative practice, critical thinking, and informed action. These curricular commitments prepare students to understand the complex contexts and power structures that maintain and reproduce inequality and injustice, and to take action to promote individual, social, and structural change.

1) Social Justice
SSA supports students to analyze the social, historical, political, economic, and organizational factors that reinforce inequity and injustice. Students and faculty consider their own and others' positionality within those structures, with an appreciation of how identities and affiliations may intersect to compound or mitigate privilege and oppression. We work to increase access, opportunity, and agency in order to dismantle systems of oppression and to help meet the basic needs of diverse individuals, families, and communities with compassion and humaneness.

2) Intellectual Pluralism
Intellectual pluralism is at the heart of SSA's teaching. The curriculum reflects the intellectual diversity of our faculty, who come from an array of academic disciplines and professions and represent a variety of political perspectives. This pluralism allows our students and faculty to appreciate multiple ways of knowing, to be critical of what counts as knowledge and research, and to be more inclusive of perspectives that have not traditionally been centered in social work curricula. Our intellectual pluralism also encourages ongoing interrogation of the concept of social justice, which is central to the mission of social work. It also provides us with the tools and flexibility to engage effectively with a broad range of individuals, communities, and social institutions.

3) Engaged Scholarship and Teaching
SSA faculty are committed to promoting social justice and social equality through engaged scholarship and education. Scholarship at SSA emerges from interactive engagement with practitioners, policy makers, and communities. SSA faculty members actively integrate their research into curricula and teaching. Students are educated to identify and analyze the causes, consequences of, and approaches to ameliorating human suffering and social injustice.

4) Integrative Practice
Our curriculum is built on the assumption that all social workers need to understand and act to mobilize change with and within individuals, families, communities, organizations, public institutions, and political and economic systems. Drawing upon and integrating field and classroom experiences, students will develop skills to practice across multiple levels. In addition, students are trained to use integrative frameworks that move beyond the micro-­macro dichotomy.

5) Critical Thinking
Students learn to effectively question, assess, evaluate, and respond to assumptions, claims, and values, including those from social science and social work research. Students learn to consider a range of perspectives, carefully assess their assumptions, validity and implications, and become skilled and insightful evaluators of their own thinking. This process includes reflection on how one's own affiliations and identities may lead to blind spots and biases. Students learn to integrate a critical sensibility into practice so as to make meaningful contributions to the profession, the client base, and to the analysis and resolution of social problems.

6) Theory to Action
Students prepare for positions of leadership and to be stewards of change while working in dynamic sociopolitical and fiscal contexts in hundreds of vetted field placements throughout Chicago and its surrounding communities. Chicago has a rich history of social reform, social service innovation, and community organizing that gives context and continuity to students' field experiences. The field model provides opportunity for students to engage in coursework and field work concurrently, challenging students to assess, understand and address the extraordinary range of needs that bring people into contact with nonprofit, public and private agencies.

Simultaneously, students learn from the tremendous strength, resilience, and knowledge held by the individuals and communities they serve. Students are encouraged to identify practice questions that lead to analysis, research and new approaches toward ameliorating social exclusion through community-­engaged fieldwork.

While we strive to create conditions that will largely negate the need for a social work profession, we realize that social service programs and organizations serve vital safety net functions and can aid in societal transformations toward equity and social justice. SSA faculty recognize that individuals, families, and communities are rarely helped by mediocre interventions and programs. Similarly, society is rarely served by poorly conducted research or poorly crafted social policies. Therefore, SSA strives towards excellence in our practice, teaching, and scholarship.

Annie Boyd, AM ’16

Annie Boyd, AM ’16

"In each SSA course, I have either learned something more about myself to become a stronger, more knowledgeable, and compassionate advocate and leader. Or, I have learned important skills, tasks, or principles that can build a stronger organization."