Social Work and Social Justice

Students, faculty members, and social workers gathered on October 13 to discuss the past and future of social work and the field's significant role in promoting social justice and advocacy. The event, "Social Work and Social Justice/Advocacy-Contrasting the Decades of the 1960s & 2010s," part of the 50th Anniversary Faculty Lecture Series, featured a panel discussion with Professor Gerald Landsberg; Assistant Professor Robert Hawkins; Kate Barrow, MSW '08; and Amanda Raposo, BS '11. Assistant Professor Victoria Stanhope moderated the panel and Clinical Associate Professor Dina Rosenfeld opened the event with introductory comments.

Landsberg spoke about his experience as a social work student during the 1960s, with Hawkins, Barrow, and Raposo offering individual insight from their current experiences in the profession. Landsberg explained that during the 1960s strikes and protests were common aspects of University life, which helped the social work profession grow. Community organizing initiatives and courses flourished but the movement was short lived and enthusiasm waned by the mid-1970s. It was not until 2008 that a community organization course was reintroduced at the Silver School.

Because social justice is, "everything you do as a social worker," Hawkins cited the fundamental need for social workers to become advocates for the populations they seek to help. Though that concept appears straightforward, the implementation of social change is often thwarted by a variety of obstacles ranging from apathetic attitudes to the rise of technology weakening emotional connections. Additionally, tax restrictions imposed upon nonprofit organizations limit advocacy by social workers. The proposed way to circumvent this issue is through social entrepreneurship, of which Raposo beseeched the audience not to be wary. She cited the necessity to build business relationships and that nonprofits benefit from relations with board members with access to substantial funds for a cause. Barrow spoke about building the RISE Conference through grassroots efforts. Relying on donations from local businesses, she was able to procure enough funds to bring her vision--a collective of social workers and activists--to reality. Because of these generous contributions, entrepreneurial projects are also able to engage and include clients in working toward specific causes. This bridges the gap and creates a sense of empowerment for all.