Social Justice at SSW

Just Community logoJust Community

Just Community is comprised of faculty, staff, Graduate Student Organization MSW and PhD student representatives, and BSW student representatives. Its role is to facilitate and support educational and advocacy efforts and to enhance inclusion of more anti-oppressive practices in our classrooms, programming, and in our daily interactions with one another at the school and our many communities. Through the power of education and advocacy we work for social change within the ideological, intrapersonal, and institutional levels. The ultimate goal is justice and inclusion for all.

Social Justice Spotlight

November 2019

My Journey (Attempting) to Understand Mental Health

Anonymous Submission

 

It was when I was in the fifth grade that I went to see my first therapist. My family had noticed a difference in me, got worried, and wanted to take action to solve the issue. Little did they or I know at that time, that this was the beginning of an ongoing journey to try understanding mental health.

Looking back, I see how my perception of mental health has changed over the years. I remember when first going to the therapist and doctor to be prescribed medication, I felt ashamed, embarrassed. I kept it a secret from my friends because I didn’t want them to think I was “crazy.”

Then, after a few years of not getting the relief I sought, I myself began to think I was “crazy.” Why was I like this? What did I do to deserve this? Why did life have to be such a struggle? I became hopeless, and decided to stop trying – because nothing worked anyway, why should I put all this effort into going to see a therapist who won’t help me or go on medication that won’t help me? This landed me in the hospital a few times. My family (mother especially) would watch in anguish as I spiraled with no solution in sight.

I’m not sure if it was time or a revelation, but I finally decided to go back to making efforts to become stable. I would go through the [long and arduous] trial and error process of finding a medication and therapist that worked for me. I am still here today. Although I still have difficult moments, I do feel able to cope with and manage my mental health issues.

In reflection, this experience has opened my eyes to the realities of mental health – how not only those with the issues are affected, but also those closest to them. I plan to share my experience with others, in hopes to take down the stigma of mental health issues. Hopefully by enough affected persons sharing their stories, it will help others not to feel alone. And, perhaps most importantly, sharing will help that young girl in the fifth grade know that she is NOT crazy and she will push through.


Current students and SSW staff, do want to write the next Spotlight article? Submit 200-300 words on topic of your choosing to ssw.justcommunity@uconn.edu.

Spaces We Offer

Solidarity Hour: Building Up  

Once a month we host Solidarity Hour which is a safe space for students, staff and faculty to discuss current issues, support one another, and practice self-care.  This is where we Share, Care, & Repair.

Community Hour: Building Out

Once a month we host Community Hour which is a space where students, staff and faculty come together to work towards social justice.  The events involve attendees completing a small project or meeting with a Community Member or Community Organization.  This is where we Discern, Learn, & Do a Good Turn.

Student-Centered Collaborations for Social Justice

Just Community collaborates with Graduate student interest groups.


Please contact us if you are interested in JC supporting your event!

Just Community Solidarity Hour

Just Community Solidarity Hour

Just Community Solidarity Hour

Gun Violence Panel

Gun Violence Panel

Just Community and Doctoral Student Organization Collaboration

Why We Are Here

Our Mission

To create a community at SSW that is capable of dialoging with, learning from, and participating in mobilizing social justice efforts towards the many social injustices and forms of oppression and inequities within our communities as well at the local and national levels.

Our Purpose

To provide spaces within the School for faculty, staff, and students to come together to educate, discuss, and debrief issues relevant to the social work profession within the context of our socio-cultural/political/historical and economic environments. These opportunities aim to help enhance personal and professional development, mobilize advocacy efforts, and promote an inclusive environment.

 

Within the Fabric of SSW

School’s Dedication to Anti-Oppressive Practice & Social Justice

Our dedication to anti-oppressive practice and social justice is reflected in our ongoing efforts to recruit and retain a diverse staff, faculty, student body, and associated field agencies. We are also committed to working with and within diverse communities. In accordance with the NASW Code of Ethics, we educate the School of Social Work community on anti-oppressive practice and social justice highlighting the importance of understanding intersectionality and the role that power and privilege play on individual, institutional and cultural levels. Particular attention is given to developing critical consciousness, examining the structural forces in our society that shape our socio-political environment,  and promoting advocacy that mobilizes social justice efforts.

Just Community Committee Members

Just Community Committee Chairs:

Marilyn Cardone, MSW, Assistant Director, Field Education
Margaret Lloyd, PhD, Assistant Professor

Members:

Ann Marie Garran, PhD, MSW Program Director, Associate Professor
Madri Hall-Faul, PhD Student
July Leon, Undergraduate Student
Natalie O'Connor, BA, Program Assistant, Office of Student and Academic Services
Lisa Werkmeister Rozas, PhD, Associate Professor and BSW Program Director

 

We Want to Hear from You

Looking for Just Community to support your event? Seeking volunteer opportunities or social justice resources? Please email us at: ssw.justcommunity@uconn.edu.

Social Justice Spotlight Archives

October 2019: Environmental Racism and Systems of Oppression

October 2019

Environmental Racism and Systems of Oppression

Gabrielle Amlicke | Policy 2020

Frederick Olmsted, an American Landscape designer best known for Central Park (New York, NY) and The Emerald Necklace (Boston, MA), also designed Keney Park (Hartford, CT). Keney Park runs vertically up and down the west half of Hartford’s Northeast neighborhood. The northern areas of this city are where the highest rates of crime and vacancy are reported among a predominately Black population. The decaying aspects of the physical environment contextualize an aspect of loss, both for the community members and potentially for the general public. Despite powerful community-led efforts to reduce violence in the area, ongoing oppression and political marginalization undermine these activities.  Fear pushes even those who live in the Northeast neighborhood to seek out other community parks. Thirty-years of activities aimed at improving park conditions have been disrupted by the larger political failures to protect and nourish this neighborhood.

Famous natural spaces have the potential to stimulate individual and economic growth. Why then is Keney Park, which sits almost directly between NYC’s “Central Park” to the south and Boston’s “Emerald Necklace Conservancy” park system to the north, less renowned than its Olmsted siblings?

The answer: environmental racism.  Anytime environmental decisions are shaped by the intersectional identities of those benefiting from, or occupying, a particular environment—racism is at work. Social workers must identify and amplify these instances. We must advocate for investment in these environments or else the historic systems of oppression that harm our clients and our profession will never be dismantled.

September 2019: Becoming a Black social worker in a White world: A personal account on oppression, categorization, and assumption.

September 2019

Becoming a Black social worker in a White world: A personal account on oppression, categorization, and assumption

Jania Ross | MSW ’20, IGFP

Frustrated, Fabulous, and Frivolously Political

As an African-American, I carry the honor of having melanated skin. This source of pride is also a mechanism for my devaluation, marginalization, and oppression. I experience these oppressions in small, inter-personal ways and in large, structural ways. Perhaps at the intersection of the micro and macro is my emerging identity as a social worker. As a young woman at the beginning of my professional journey, I have the unencumbered passion of a social worker still on ‘the potter’s wheel’ – being shaped and molded into a trained practitioner.  I have a burning passion to connect and to advocate. I yearn for information and growth.

For me, however, the classroom is not a beacon of nurturing for my intellect, creativity and self. As an African-American woman, I too often find myself being underestimated, while being overeducated about the political side of social work. Rather than developing my professional identity through ethical reasoning, integrity, and self-growth, I am pruned to shed my personality. I am taught to conform to a certain manner of speech. I am taught to advocate and interact in a way that has been deemed appropriate. I am judged and critiqued to meet the standards of the individual who is considered superior in that “teachable” moment. How can I learn and grow in spaces rife with negative assumptions about my contributions, worthiness, passions, and personhood?

More broadly speaking, what kind of social worker does this process birth?

If I am to rise to my potential—if our profession is to rise to its potential—something needs to change. Social workers are not more effective when we conform to one [white] way of practicing; we are less effective. Social work is not more powerful when it conforms to one [white] way of advocating; it is less powerful. I am proud to be an African-American women and an African-American social worker. It is time for my peers, my instructors, my school, and my profession to be proud of me as well.

Summer 2019: A Personal Reflection on Values, Marginalization, & Effectiveness in Social Work Practice

Summer 2019

A Personal Reflection on Values, Marginalization, & Effectiveness in Social Work Practice

By A Graduating MSW Student

The first thing I wrote down on my first day of school (as a master's student) was that social workers are agents of change through institutions; interrupting and ending cycles of oppression.  I also learned that achieving this outward-facing mission starts with the ability to turn inward and self-reflect.  As I get ready to graduate, I know this to be true.

While I always considered myself an ally to all marginalized groups, an experience during my first field placement helped me understand dynamics of oppression in a nuanced, and personal, way.  In this placement, I, a Jewish queer woman, was assigned to work closely with a professional who was vocally anti-Semitic, misogynist, and homophobic. I felt absolutely defeated before the job even began.

As a single mom, defeat is not a feeling I often entertain. My reality is that if I don’t create a path forward for myself and my son, there will be no path. For the first time I can remember, I was confronted with a situation I couldn’t think, talk, or buy my way out of. I was dealing with a person who saw my humanity as less than his own simply because of my DNA. No amount of relationship building or meeting him where he was could convince him that I, and anyone who identifies as I do, was not a “white devil”.

Although we were conducting work for an organization and cause about which I felt, and feel, passionately, and he comported himself with politeness, I could not un-know my partner’s underlying hatred and un-hear his hurtful comments. For a time, I attempted to ignore my internal experience for the sake of doing this important work.  Not long thereafter, however, I left the project and that field placement.  Even if I wanted to, I could not do my job effectively working with someone who refused to see my basic humanity.

As I look to the future and begin to build a career, I will always keep this experience in mind. Not just because of the feeling of helplessness that I never want to repeat, but because it was a great lesson in the relationship between my value(s) and my effectiveness. In order to live out the mission I wrote down on the first day of the MSW program, I cannot compromise my own humanity.  The sacrifice is too great.

April 2019: A Personal Reflection on How our Bathroom Perpetuates Internalized and Institutionalized Cisgender Normativity

As an advocate for and member of the LGBTQ+ community, beginning to understand my role in the perpetuation of transphobia and cisnormativity is a complex and emotionally taxing process. As a cisgender person, I have benefitted from the privilege of cisnormativity: the assumption that all human beings have a gender identity which “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth.
Understanding the social context of transphobia allowed me to recognize the ways in which I have manifested this institutionalized oppression in my personal life. My understanding of gender began as a young child; roles and expectations for “women” and “men” were made clear to me implicitly (e.g., gendered toys I got for birthdays) and explicitly (e.g., boys and girls lines in grade school). Psychological science sheds some light on this phenomenon. Using the binary is a cognitive shortcut that makes it easy to “distinguish” people by gender. And, as a result, uncomfortable feelings, including fear and threat, may arise when people do not fit into the existing heuristic. These feelings, consciously or unconsciously, contribute to people’s decision-making. With cisnormative people in power, institutional trans* oppression continues.
Intellectually understanding these barriers to trans* inclusion, and believing myself to be someone who practices trans* acceptance, did not inoculate me a lifetime of socialized gender construction as I recently learned. In the beginning of the semester, I met a person who is not cisgender and was soon confronted with my own cisnormative biases and oppressive personal assumptions during an interaction that occurred in an institutionally oppressive space. While using the women’s restroom in the UConn School of Social Work building, my peer entered. Although I know they are not cisgender, I thought: “oh, they’re actually female.” I immediately felt shame and embarrassment at this thought. I knew that my internal curiosity about their “actual” sex was inappropriate and irrelevant, as they were simply trying to use the restroom. More importantly, by thinking the word “actually,” I completely overrode the individual’s expressed gender identity with my personal assumption.

March 2019: Voting (& Organizing & Testifying & Running for Office) is Social Work

March is Social Work Month. March is also the halfway point of the Connecticut legislatures' current session, which runs until June 5. Several important social justice issues.pdf are up for debate, including minimum wage, family leave, Medicaid eligibility, changes to sales tax, and marijuana legalization. While the majority of social workers are employed in micro clinical settings, and may consider political issues beyond the scope of their vocation, in the words of the late Nancy Humphreys , the founder of the Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work and past president of NASW, “voting is social work”. Living out our social work values includes educating ourselves on political issues, and taking action to support our positions. The question may then become, how do we take action?
During the first weekend of March, over 120 social workers from across the country gathered to participate in the 24th annual Humphreys Institute Campaign School to learn about developing, implementing, and winning a local, state, or national election. Participants heard from current and past social worker legislators and took steps to outline their future political participation. Although one goal of the Campaign School is to jump start social workers' political careers, it was noted frequently that the political landscape is broad; there is room for all personalities (I see you introverts), strengths, and talents. Write letters, call, or email your elected officials. Volunteer at an organization doing work you support. Testify during a public hearing. For those who want a buddy when entering the Connecticut legislature, join us for Social Work Lobby Day on March 11. Meet at the Legislative Office Building at 10 a.m. Bring your heart, your courage, and your questions!

February 2019: Black Lives Matter at School

This week, across the US, schools are engaging in actions and lessons designed to teach students about "structural racism, Black identity and history, and restorative justice and related issues". Momentum for this effort stems from the long history of inaccurate information, or total erasure, of people of color in educational materials and settings across our school system. Children of color are subject to racism from peers and educators, policing, and disproportionate disciplinary measures. Teachers are 82% white. Schoolhouse Live published this video highlighting these realities. As Israel Presley states in the video, when people of color are included in the curriculum, content highlights positions of oppression, rather than strength.
Changing the paradigm requires that everyone, not just people of color, demand and make changes. BLM@S provides numerous clear, actionable, and evidence-based ideas, including increasing the number of trauma-trained social workers and decreasing police presence in schools, highlighting the achievements of people of color from ancient history to current day (including, for example, the achievements of non-enslaved people during antebellum America) and ending white-savior narratives, and mandating black and ethnic studies.
As social workers, our code of ethics requires that we fight against social injustice. Ensuring that every child in America receives high-quality, loving, and safe education is paramount to healing from our country's past and present.