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School of Social Work Course to Canada, Stan de Mello, School of Social Work

February 28, 2008

Above: School of Social Work students pause for a group photo in Vancouver where they were able to compare Canadian social work approaches with US models (far right, Stan de Mello).

This past Winter Quarter Blake Kaiser and I took 21 students from the School of Social Work to Vancouver, British Columbia, on a field trip. We wanted the students to explore the multicultural roots that bind our two nations and to compare social work approaches across the 49th parallel.

After crossing the border we headed to Chinatown where we were met by our host, Hayne Wai, President of the Historical Society of Chinatown. Hayne is an instructor with University of British Columbia’s School of Social Work and is on the faculty of Education. In addition, he has been a long-time community activist in Vancouver. This was a historically opportune time to visit Chinatown as one hundred years ago Vancouver was rocked by race riots. The city was founded in the early 1900s as destination for Asian and European communities who arrived to make a new life. (Of course, First Nations people were already well established on the West Coast.) The riots were the result of a history of anti-Asian sentiment. For example, the Asiatic Exclusion League protested the presence of migrants from China, Japan and India. In 1907 the Labour Day weekend march rapidly deteriorated into violence and extensive property damage in Chinatown and Japantown. The origins of these riots can also be traced to Bellingham where earlier five hundred Punjabi workers were attacked by white protesters in an effort to drive them back into Canada.

Our group was able to retrace some of the key sites of the riot and visit Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley that were the economic and cultural centers of the early Chinese community. Hayne described how subsequent waves of Asian migration (including a moving account of his own family’s experiences) left unique contributions to the social and cultural fabric of the city. At the same time the stress and strains of multiculturalism have given rise to the ongoing challenges to both Canadian-born and immigrant populations. Our tour continued with a wonderful lunch in Chinatown and then a visit to the eastside of the city and a tour of Britannia Community Center, a multi-purpose social service facility. Once again we examined how contemporary social services approaches have been mediated by our respective social, cultural and political contexts. Our visit concluded with a dinner at the Katmandu Café where we heard from Vancouver Hospital social worker Kathleen Mackay, explaining how the hospital works on issues of domestic violence within a multicultural context.

In reflecting upon their visit, students seemed impressed with the diversity and differences between our countries as well as many similarities that both enrich and challenge us.

“The trip was amazing! I was surprised at how large and culturally expressive their [Vancouver’s] Chinatown was especially as I am a resident of Seattle’s international district … What I found most useful … was the group talk we had … about the current status of Canada’s racial and political positioning.” – Joshua Johnson, student participant

“Prior to our visit I was completely unaware of the deep rooted history the Chinese have in Canada … I hope that what I have learned from this trip to Canada will continue to motivate me to become a better social worker and a better person.” – Suzanna Chen, student participant

Funding – This field course to Canada was made possible thanks to a Canadian Studies Center Program Enhancement Grant from Foreign Affairs, Canada.

Stan de Mello teaches in the School of Social Work and takes students on regular field trips to Canada (British Columbia and Alberta) to explore social work practices across the 49th parallel. Stan is interested in community-based practice in First Nations communities and cross-cultural social work in Canada. The course is co-taught with Blake Kaiser also with the School of Social Work. As a clinical social worker Blake has a keen interest in how social work practice has evolved in Canada. She has been involved in several field trips to Vancouver that have enriched her teaching and research interest in cross-border social work practice.