New dean of social work puts focus on cultural competency

Salome Raheim, the new dean of social work, has earned a national reputation for her expertise in building diversity and cultural competency.

When Salome Raheim learned that a UConn diversity training program scheduled for the School of Social Work conflicted with the Jewish holiday of Passover, she wasted little time getting the training changed to a more appropriate date.

Raheim’s actions sent a clear message to her faculty and staff that, as the School’s new dean, she takes her commitment to diversity seriously.

Those who know Raheim from her days at the University of Iowa, where she was director of Iowa’s School of Social Work, say they were not surprised by that account. During Raheim’s 11 years in Iowa, she earned a national reputation for her expertise in building diversity and cultural competency.

It’s a mission Raheim hopes to continue at UConn – training future social workers, as well as her own faculty and staff, to be welcoming, respectful, and inclusive when it comes to working with people whose race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or ability status is different from their own.

While the School of Social Work already has a good record in terms of diversity – approximately one third of its students, faculty, and staff are members of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups – there is always room to do more, Raheim says.

Salome Raheim, left, dean of the School of Social
Work, meets with representatives from the University
of the West Indies, including Peta-Anne Baker, in
her office at the Greater Hartford Campus.
Photo by Peter Morenus

“As the diversity of this school, this state, and this nation increase, we all encounter people from different cultures, and we need to build our understanding and develop new skills,” Raheim said during a recent interview in her office at the Greater Hartford campus. “And that’s even more important for a school of social work that is training students to work in the context of that diversity.”

Academic plan
Raheim’s commitment to cultural competency and diversity is also reflected in the school’s new academic plan, one of several major initiatives she has tackled since joining the University last August.

Raheim also sprucedup the school’s interior design, splashing fresh coats of paint in parts of the building that needed it and replacing worn furniture to freshen up the look and feel of the place.

A monthly “Dean’s Report,” through which she keeps faculty and staff updated on the significant accomplishments of their students and peers, is also new.

It’s all part of community building, says Raheim.

“I help pull people together, helpthem to develop a shared vision, and help them mobilize the organization toward accomplishing that vision,” she says. “I’m known for bringing out the best in people and helping to create in an organization a sense of community and mutual respect and appreciation.”

Raheim says she is proud of the school’s “talented and committed” faculty and staff, who worked diligently to craft an academic plan that she believes will raise the School’s prominence through a renewed commitment to education, research, diversity, and public engagement.

“I believe there is an air of hopefulness and anticipation about the things we are going to accomplish together,” she says.

In the coming months, Raheim hopes to appoint a new associate dean of research, strengthen external funding efforts, and expand collaborations with state agencies and community organizations.

Faculty and staff have embraced Raheim’s leadership.

“Dean Raheim has been extremely well received by the faculty, staff, and students at the School of Social Work,” says Catherine Havens, associate dean for academic affairs.

“In spite of the fiscal challenges we are all facing, we are excited by her energy and ideas for the School’s future. Her leadership style is to focus on the positive and look for opportunities for us to change and grow. … This was an important characteristic as she led us through the academic planning process.”

Alex Gitterman, holder of the Zachs Chair in Social Work, says the School’s new academic plan illustrates Raheim’s distinctive leadership style. “Dean Raheim respected existing structures and processes and engaged all constituencies,” he says.

“The outcome is a dynamic academic plan in which everyone has a sense of ownership. Dean Raheim is a centered and positive person for whom being fair and principled is an essential quality of her leadership.”

National presence
Nancy Humphreys, a professor of policy practice, has known and worked with Raheim nationally for years. She praises the new dean for her “quiet, but forceful and thoughtful leadership style.”

Raheim was recently nominated to become the next president of the Council on Social Work Education, a nonprofit national association representing more than 3,000 individual members, as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. The council is the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S.

Raheim has served on the council’s board of directors and was chosen as the council’s 2007 Carl A. Scott Memorial Lecturer for her contributions to social and economic justice.

A native of Baltimore, Md., Raheim began her career as a psychiatric social worker in Prince George’s County, Md. Her research interests include cultural competence, social justice, human rights, social and economic development, and organization and community practice.

Article credits to: UCONN ADVANCE,April 13, 2009 by Colin Poitras