MSW Students Brijuan Phillips and Julie Fiorenza Awarded CSWE Minority Fellowships
Class of 2022 MSW students Brijuan Phillips and Julie Fiorenza have been awarded master's fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year from the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the one-year fellowship provides a stipend, training, mentorship, and professional development supports to outstanding MSW students who are committed to providing behavioral health services to underserved racial/ethnic minority communities after they graduate.
Brijuan said she has known from an early age that she wanted to focus on reducing health disparities and improving behavioral health outcomes for the Black community. “What inspired me is being a Black woman, coming from a Black family, and learning about our health and how it differs from other communities,” Brijuan said. “We have endured intergenerational trauma, starting from slavery. More recently, since George Floyd was brutally murdered during the first peak of COVID-19, there has been an increase in anxiety and depression in our community. I want to be able to represent and serve the Black community, to provide psychoeducation and treatment, and to inspire more Black people to go into therapy.” She added, “That’s why I wanted to do this fellowship; I want to get as many skills as I can to work with people in my community.”
Brijuan is also developing those skills as part of NYU Silver’s Social Work Practice with Youth and Families Focused Learning Opportunity, which combines coursework, Field education, and colloquia to prepare students to work with vulnerable youth and their families from marginalized communities. Her Field placement is at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, a foster care agency in Brooklyn. She has a caseload of six youth whom she provides individual therapy under the guidance of her Field Instructor, Jessica Tolentino, MSW ’19, and her faculty advisor, Clinical Professor Diane Mirabito.
Diversity, Racism, Oppression, and Privilege (DROP) has been Brijuan’s favorite course at Silver so far and it was her teacher in the course, Assistant Professor Ifrah Magan, who recommended Brijuan for the MFP Fellowship. “Dr. Magan is amazing, said Brijuan. “She was my professor and she’s a mentor to me as well. The class not only made me feel validated, but it also helped me gain skills to work with people who look like me and gave me things to think about when I’m working with them.”
In addition to the skills she will gain through the fellowship, Brijuan is looking forward to networking and gaining more connections in the field. “I really look forward to meeting other students who are in the fellowship and learning from them,” she said. “That’s why I love to connect: It’s all about learning.”
Julie said her inspiration for working toward reduced health disparities and improved behavioral health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority communities is her commitment to social justice and to remedying the mental health system’s underrepresentation of social workers of color. “When it comes to mental health, finding and affording services is extremely difficult, and people of color face additional barriers like discrimination, cultural stigma, and a scarcity of providers who share their experiences. I want to address this gap in care by encouraging those with racial and ethnic minority identities not only to seek services, but to increase their trust in social workers.”
After she graduates, Julie hopes to practice forensic social work. “So often," she said, “the problems faced by racial and ethnic minority populations are connected to the legal system, and navigating that system can be insurmountable. I would like to provide guidance, support, and access to effective treatment for people in this situation. I could also see myself focusing on intervention at an earlier stage in young people’s lives in an effort to disrupt the school to prison pipeline. For that reason, I am very interested in healing-centered practices like restorative justice.”
Julie cited her Field learning experience at Silver as having shown her how unaddressed trauma and mental health needs can profoundly alter the course of one’s life. “Last year, my work with high school students exposed me to the unique mental health needs of adolescents of color that were exacerbated by the pandemic and the murder of Black people across the country. Fortunately, this school prioritized mental health and emotional wellbeing. However, it made me realize how punitive school discipline policies can make schools less safe, especially for BIPOC students. In my current field placement doing mitigation work at the Federal Public Defender of Connecticut, I assist in the defense of indigent individuals by humanizing them and helping the court to understand their unmet mental health needs and recommendations for treatment.”
Asked how she expects to benefit from the Minority Fellowship Program, Julie said she hopes that the training, mentoring, and professional development support will aid in her transition from graduate student to working professional. Equally important is the community she hopes to find. “I have always looked to my peers as a source of inspiration in whatever I do,” she said, “so being in the company of other like-minded, aspiring social workers from various backgrounds is invaluable to me. I look forward to being in a space that reflects the diversity of those we are committed to serving in our work.”
“We are extremely proud of Brijuan and Julie,” said Associate Professor and MSW Program Director Ernest Gonzales. “This program is highly competitive and their acceptance into the program is a testament to their brilliance and potential. They exemplify the social work profession’s deep and unwavering commitment to advancing social justice for those who are most marginalized. I’m so excited to see how they impact our society and help us move the needle on equity and inclusion.”
Brijuan, Julie, and the other MFP Master’s Fellows will participate in virtual webinars throughout the fellowship year and will attend a virtual training in March 2022 that will strengthen their competency to work with underrepresented and underserved racial/ethnic minorities with or at risk for mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. To see a complete list of 2021-22 Master’s Minority Fellows, please visit the CSWE website.