Interview with Dr. David McCarty-Caplan; Assistant Professor at California State University at Northridge (CSUN) | Research and Teaching & Macro and Micro Level

About Dr. David McCarty-Caplan, Ph. D: Dr. David McCarty-Caplan received his Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Illinois, Chicago and his M.A. in Social Service Administration from the University of Chicago. Dr. McCarty-Caplan specializes in research and teaching related to intersections of macro and micro-level social work education and practice, with a special focus on the health of at-risk youth, support of LGBT populations, social policy, and HIV/AIDS prevention. His clinical experience includes training youth activists to be sexual health educators, counseling HIV+ incarcerated adults and their families, and mentoring emotionally disturbed adolescents. Dr. McCarty-Caplan has also recently presented at local and national conferences, and published refereed journal articles on the intersections of religious issues and social work support of LGBT groups, drug use and sexual risk among men who have sex with men, and the impact of school-based sex education on LGBT families.

Dr. McCarty-Caplan currently works as an assistant professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Dr. David McCarty-Caplan was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] You are currently an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), where you specialize in the intersections of macro and micro-level social work education and practice. What is the purpose of thinking of social work education and practice as distinct macro and micro levels? How do students benefit from seeing where the two intersect?

[Dr. David McCarty-Caplan] Actually, I think that the distinction between micro and macro-level social work is a false divide that often causes problems in social work education and practice. In my experience, most students entering an MSW program come with a focus on working with individuals or families, and a too-narrow understanding of what this means. Many feel uncomfortable with or resistant to community or policy-practice because they think it is different than what they love about social work, or something that they are not good at. This can be a problem, as I see micro/macro-level social work as fundamentally intertwined in all arenas. For example, to effectively serve a person living with HIV requires not only an ability to create rapport and provide compassionate counseling, but also an understanding of the policies that impact the client, the service systems they may have access to, and the community supports available to them. These are often referred to as “macro” issues, but to me it is all about working to truly understand a client and their environment. I enjoy the challenge of expanding students’ perceptions of our profession in a way that takes what they love about the ‘micro’ world and finds ways of addressing it in communities, through social action, or policy change.

[] You also have a special focus on the health of at-risk youth. What are the health challenges facing at-risk youth? How do you prepare your students to meet these challenges?

[Dr. David McCarty-Caplan] In my opinion, the biggest health risks faced by today’s youth are related to drug use, sexual health/behavior, and community violence. All youth experience risk in these arenas, but I think it is particularly important to recognize that youth of color, LGBT youth, young women, and poor youth face these challenges at a disproportionate rate. I try to encourage my students to question why this is so, and to investigate how problems like sexually transmitted illnesses, teen suicide, bullying, drug misuse, and gang and intimate partner violence reflect larger societal inequities. A big part of responding effectively to these issues is recognizing the connections between personal health and social systems and institutions, and developing skills to empower communities to work towards improved and inclusive community well-being.

[] Your clinical experience includes training youth activists to be sexual health educators. Why is sexual health education such a significant issue for social workers? What should social workers be doing to better sexual health education?

[Dr. David McCarty-Caplan] So much of what social workers do is connected to sexual health education. A client’s family/partner relationships, financial sustainability, acceptance of sexual identity, access to health services, response to illness or disease — all depend, to some degree, on a client’s sexual behavior and education. Therefore, social workers should take on the challenge of learning about the intersections of sexual health, education, and the well-being of underserved or oppressed communities. I think one place where social workers (students or professionals) could begin would be to reflect on their own feelings or experiences around sexual health. How did you learn about sexual health? How comfortable are you discussing this topic in your own life? What biases or moral tensions do you hold around sex or sexuality? How have institutions, organizations or policies impacted your sexual health? Answering these questions is a good first step to awareness, understanding, and humility that will help any social worker in their efforts to support a client or community.

[] You’ve published a number of journal articles on the impact of school-based sex education on LGBT families. What is the impact? How does sex education need to change to better serve LGBT families?

[Dr. David McCarty-Caplan] School-based sex education in the U.S. has a long history of marginalizing and stigmatizing LGBT communities. Unfortunately, most sex education continues to purposefully ignore and exclude the existence or pressing health needs of LGBT individuals or their families. There is so much sex education could do to better serve LGBT families. Step one would be acknowledging their existence, and including scientifically accurate and affirming content on LGBT identities, families, and behaviors in course curricula. Step two would be to train sex educators on how to provide learning environments safe for and inclusive of all students. Sex education classrooms have such potential to be a place where diversity is celebrated while very real social problems are addressed. It is an opportunity to show the next generation that we care about their bodies, we support their family and/or identity, no matter what, and that we are dedicated to work as a community to protect their well-being as they grow.

[] The MSW program at CSUN specifically invites applicants interested in making a positive difference in the lives of the residents of San Fernando Valley and the Greater Los Angeles Region. What are the unique social work issues affecting the residents of these areas? How does CSUN prepare its graduates to address those issues?

[Dr. David McCarty-Caplan] As a recent transplant from Chicago, I am still learning about the region. I have been amazed by the diversity of people and intricacy of social issues I have already experienced here. Concerns related to immigration, gentrification, homelessness, incarceration, poverty, sexual orientation, and gender and cultural identity are major hot topics. I believe CSUN does a wonderful job of tackling these complex and profound issues through a generalist program that provides all students opportunities to develop skills in micro/macro-practice, social policy, and research courses. Students here get a comprehensive education that is truly grounded in ideals of social justice, and that prepares them for the difficult task of combating oppression and supporting underserved communities in urban environments.

Thank you Dr. David McCarty-Caplan for your time and insight into social work!

Last updated: April 2020