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COVID-19 Updates for the College of Social Work

We know it has been a stressful time, trying to adjust quickly to the news of the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, in Tennessee and around the country. Further, our community members in middle Tennessee are still dealing with the aftermath of a damaging tornado. The university policies are regularly updated to reflect the best direction from the CDC, the Governor’s office, the UT system, and public health leaders, and we would encourage you to visit that website often.

As one of the few academic programs at UT that has faculty, staff, and students in Nashville as well as Knoxville, and staff positioned across the state with SWORPS, the College of Social Work is working together to interpret these university policies and identify ways we can support CSW faculty, staff, and students.

What do the university decisions mean for the College of Social Work? See our updates below.

Dean Lori Messinger offers a message of encouragement to all students, faculty, and staff at the end of a long week.

It has been an incredibly busy week on our campuses. The College’s faculty and staff are working together to identify creative ways to respond to this health crisis and incorporate university directives. This update includes important issues about field placement, our social work buildings, and classes resuming online on Monday, March 23rd.

Field Education

After much deliberation, the College of Social Work administration made a final decision to suspend student in-person attendance at field agencies for the remainder of the spring semester. We understand that this decision will be disappointing and frustrating for our students and our partner agencies. We are all saddened by this situation, and by the necessity to take this action.

The decision was made with the intention to protect students, agency clients and staff, and College faculty and staff, and to participate ethically in a public health response to a highly contagious and dangerous illness. Many of our partner agencies had already decided to move to remote operations and/or to end student placements, and the University moved all possible personnel to telecommuting and remote work activities to decrease exposure on the UT campus.

Students will not be allowed to complete any additional field assignments or activities onsite at agencies. Because we have BSSW and MSSW students at different points in their programs of study who still need to complete assignments to meet competencies or required hours, the field faculty have developed a list of requirements for completion of spring field for each level of student, along with a step-by-step procedure. You can find this information, along with other resources, on the field education website.

Social Work Buildings

Per university directives and in a response to the need for social distancing, the College of Social Work is closing access to the Henson Hall and Polk buildings to students and visitors. The buildings will be locked until further notice to ensure the safety of individuals and College property. Staff and faculty will be teleworking from home, though they will have key card (VolCard) access to the buildings if needed for an important work function that cannot be completed at home. Crews are working to clean and disinfect both buildings, focusing on horizontal surfaces and touch points.

Classes Resuming Online

As Spring Break ends, classes will resume in an online format. Some faculty have chosen to move to a synchronous format, using Zoom and other technology to meet at the regularly scheduled time, while others have adopted an asynchronous format, where all lessons are online with no set meeting schedule. Some faculty may change assignments to reflect our shift to online learning. Faculty are making these decisions based on their knowledge of the course material and learning objectives. They have worked hard this week to transition the courses and using a “syllabus addendum” to address any substantial changes in assignments or activities. They are approaching these changes with the best interests of students and their learning foremost in their minds. Please know that we want students to gain the knowledge, values, and skills they need to be successful social workers, and we are working together to make sure that doesn’t change as a result of the current situation. If students run into any issues or concerns related to their courses, we ask that they communicate quickly with their instructor.

A last note on handling stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis

We know that this is a very stressful time for many folks, and we want to help you as you negotiate the new normal, whether you are staff, faculty, student, or field instructor. Our colleagues at Wayne State put together a wonderful article on we can manage stress and anxiety. You can access it here: https://socialwork.wayne.edu/announcement/77956

Also, our own Dr. David Patterson is offering a college-wide Zoom Mindfulness Practice session. If you would like to join the next session on Wednesday, March 25th at 7p EDT/6p CDT, click on this link https://tennessee.zoom.us/j/678129339.

Please stay safe and practice self-care. We value each and every one of you as an important part of our community!

  1. We are moving all courses online for the remainder of the semester. Faculty are supporting each other to adapt their courses to meet student learning objectives while keeping everyone safe. Students, you can learn more about online learning here. The university is working to provide resources to students who lack access to computers, a high-quality internet connection, or other resources. If you need technology support, you can request technology from OIT at forms.utk.edu/tech-request. If you are an instructor who needs help, please contact Kate Chaffin (katechaffin@utk.edu) to get more support and check out this online resource page. Kate runs our online MSSW program, and she is an expert in online course design.
  2. We are asking students not to report to their field placements during Spring Break. We are working on a plan for students to complete CSWE-required hours and meet their competencies. Students and field instructors, please check your email and check back here, as we will update this site.
  3. There will be no formal commencement as we have known it. We are interested in ideas for ways to celebrate students’ completion of their degrees. We have so MANY students who will successfully graduate this May, and we want to acknowledge that accomplishment in whatever ways we can. Please send your ideas to Gina Middleton at gcox@utk.edu.
  4. Faculty, administrators, and staff are telecommuting as much as possible. In order to best respond to the need for social distancing to support public health, the College of Social Work is encouraging faculty, staff, and administrators to telecommute as much as possible. Some key individuals have been asked to help staff the buildings while they are still open, though these decisions may shift as the university policies change. If you need to contact a program director, field coordinator, or other faculty or staff member, please contact them by email.
  5. Our hiring processes will continue. We are hiring faculty and staff positions, and we plan to conduct interviews by Zoom. We will work with candidates to move these processes forward.

Please know that we are very concerned about the health and well-being of our faculty, staff, and students. We want all of our students to progress in their programs and gain the knowledge, values, and skills associated with their social work degrees. We are a community, and we will get through this together with creativity, humor, and caring. Please come back often and check out this page for further updates.