Creating a Dialogue About Latino Issues

When Christina Ramirez, MSW ’14, began her graduate studies at the NYU Silver School of Social Work, she knew she wanted to connect with student groups. She was surprised to learn that the School did not have a collective for Latino issues, especially considering that Latinos are a major population served by social workers. But despite the catchall status of the term, Latinos are a very heterogenous group comprising diverse cultural origins, dialects, and social mores. Ramirez felt that there was a need for social work students to obtain greater understanding of the cultural disparities within the Latino community, and that a forum was needed for students of all backgrounds to collaborate, enlighten, and empower each other through a dialogue on Latino issues. Thus, in 2013, Ramirez, Tracy Juarez, MSW ’14; Julia Mendizabal, MSW ’14; and Ronald Downs, MSW ’14, with advisor Professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, founded the Latino Social Work Student Organization.

Today, the growing group provides assistance, resources, and emotional support to any and all interested social work students. In meetings members discuss issues in the Latino community and focus on marginalized sections of the population who are vulnerable and often overlooked by society. A topic about which the group is especially passionate is the need for skills training in cultural competency for social workers. As member Anahi Galante, MSW ’16, points out, “Speaking Spanish is not enough. You need the curiosity to understand the immigrant experience and its location in the family history. You also need an understanding of the subgroups phenomenon.” And while the group is careful to address the diverse range of Latino cultural viewpoints, one umbrella value they bring up is the idea of the collective (the extended family) being valued more greatly than the individual. This notion is at odds with the more individualistic American ideals of personal success, the nuclear family, and social mobility. Navigating between these two realities is a source of friction for many multi-generational Latino families in the United States.

The Latino Social Work Student Organization tackles this and many other pertinent issues through spirited discussion and sponsoring a roster of enriching programs and events. Over the weekend of March 29, the group co-sponsored (with Phi Alpha National Honor Society, Graduate Student Association, and Students of Color Collective) the Undoing Racism Project workshop. The Latino Social Work Student Organization is also sponsoring Voices of the Bronx, set for Saturday, April 26. The group is the recipient of this year’s Social Justice and Diversity Grant, which is funding the half-day event designed to create awareness about the unique issues affecting residents of the Bronx (especially adolescents). The seminar will also foster a dialogue about the current lack of social work presence in the Bronx, and encourage current MSW students to consider work and field placements in the diverse borough. The event is being organized by a planning committee that includes members Galante; Sarah Efrid, MSW ’15; and Jose Alvear, MSW ’15.

The Latino Social Work Student Organization meets bimonthly on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 7-8pm. Students of all backgrounds are encouraged to attend meetings - all are welcome!