The rise of wildfires in academia: a descriptive phenomenological analysis of student-initiated confrontation as experienced by social work educators

Anderen, Thalia (2023) The rise of wildfires in academia: a descriptive phenomenological analysis of student-initiated confrontation as experienced by social work educators. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Over the past three decades, there is mounting evidence to suggest that both within and outside of the classroom, post-secondary educators are the objects of increasingly concerning behaviours initiated by students, which range from incidental rude and disruptive behaviours to more intentional ongoing hostile, aggressive, and even violent behaviours. These student-initiated confrontations (SICs) can pose personal and professional challenges for post-secondary educators and are often exacerbated by a lack of guidance and support by institutional administration, as well as inadequate training with respect to SIC and classroom management. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to understand the essence of the experience of SIC among post-secondary social work educators across Canada, and to discover what they identified as potential mitigators in and outside the classroom environment. In addition, this study was an examination of the institutional response to SIC. Particular interest was paid to the implications of SIC for social work education. Fifteen post-secondary social work educators were interviewed using semi-structured interviews. Interview data were analyzed using Colaizzi’s descriptive phenomenological approach. Anti-oppressive practice and intersectionality were the theoretical underpinnings of this study, as they helped to understand the connections between power and SIC. Findings suggest that SIC is a present and serious problem within schools of social work that has implications for social work educators, social work education, and ultimately, the profession itself. Unlike previous studies that positioned SIC as occurring with a student-educator dyadic relationship, this study suggests SIC is a triadic phenomenon. Much like a fire that has three elements (heat, fuel, oxygen), SIC also consists of three elements: student behaviours, educator vulnerabilities, and institutional leadership’s response and failure to respond. It is the interplay between these three elements that either fuel or extinguish the SIC fire. Findings specific to social work education suggest that increased mandatory training for educators on classroom management and SIC, as well as increased support for educators by institutional leadership are important in preventing and mitigating this phenomenon.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 16122
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 199-211)
Keywords: social work education, student-initiated confrontation, student incivility, student bullying of teachers, classroom management, contrapower harassment, higher education
Department(s): Social Work, School of
Date: October 2023
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Social work education--Canada; Interpersonal confrontation--Canada; College teachers--Violence against--Canada; Bullying in universities and colleges--Canada; Phenomenology; Students--Attitudes

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