Alumni Panel Discusses Social Justice and Social Work

The NYU Silver School of Social Work hosted its third Alumni Panel Series of the year on October 10 on Social Justice in Social Work Practice. The panelists spoke about their current jobs and how they were striving to make a difference in their fields and implement social justice into their practice. Judith Rosen, MSW '13, moderated the discussion.

Alumni on the panel were:
- Kate Barrow, MSW '08, project director of Bronx Futures at the Center for Court Innovation;
- Casey Burke, MSW '05, clinical coordinator of Common Ground's Streets to Home program;
- Diana Stewart, MSW '74, activist and consultant;
- Sarah Tarshis, MSW '09, senior economic empowerment specialist at Sanctuary for Families; and
- Kingsley Rowe, MSW '06, social worker at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES).

Barrow loves working with young people. At Bronx Futures, a program that provides mental health services and advocacy for juveniles, she assists youth with low-level misdemeanor histories in the court system.

"Whether they're locked up for short or long term, youth will be returning home," she said. These young people are vulnerable, and need to be re-integrated back into the community. She is motivated to change systems, and helped create the grassroots collective RISE.

Through her work at Common Ground, Burke strives to find permanent housing for homeless clients and assist with needs such as obtaining Social Security cards and food stamps. She talked about how the city changed services for the homeless in 2007. The system was not working for the benefit of the homeless: they were living in shelters, and in order to benefit from services, had to be getting help for their substance abuse or looking for work, without having the means to do so.

Stewart advocates for the rights of detained immigrants. She frequently writes and speaks about immigrants in detention centers. Stewart began working with senior citizens as an NYU student, which inspired her to get involved with community organizing. She then utilized her experience living in Japan to establish relationships through teaching ESL courses at a New York City Buddhist temple. This cross-cultural work led her to advocate on behalf of immigrants in detention centers and at risk of being unfairly deported. One of her successes involves partnering with 26 agencies to keep one of her clients in the country.

At Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence agency, Tarshis empowers women through anti-poverty initiatives and adopts an anti-oppressive lens with her clients. She is adamant that her agency helps their clients earn a living wage, and is focused on career development, rather than helping clients solely get a job. Tarshis said social workers must be genuine, and help clients through the "layers and layers of oppression." Helping them get satisfying careers is one method of eradicating poverty.

The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES) provides alternatives for people in the criminal justice system. Rowe, formerly incarcerated himself, is an advocate for alternative sentencing and understands the problems many of his clients experience. He stated that the incarcerated population is often overlooked, which is why they go through the system over and over again. Rowe aids clients on making better decision-making skills, and runs cognitive behavior groups' to help clients "develop a new paradigm of thinking." He keeps in touch with clients after they leave the program to be a source of continuing support. He said empathically, "There is a lot of suffering out there, and I'm not sure people see it."

The panel agreed that there are lessons learned in the field, especially when it comes to social justice. Barrow noted that change must happen on all levels and that social workers "need to honor clients." She stressed the importance of self-care, adding, "We won't be good to anyone burned out." Burke encouraged students to "talk to the homeless" and to immerse themselves in subjects about which they want to learn more. Rowe stated that we should not assume who are clients are, and what they are accustomed too. "One time, a client told me I sound like a white person. I had assumed I shared a commonality with him because we were both African-American."

The sentiment shared was that if a social worker sees that justice is not done, it is their duty to make change happen. As Rowe beautifully illustrated with the following statement, "It takes one person to say this is unacceptable."

The podcast of the full panel is available online, as well as photos.