Meet Student Leader Diane Valle, MSW ’23

A young woman stands on a balcony overlooking a street in Manarola Italy. She has shoulder length brown hair and is wearing a short-sleeved, scoop neck white shirt. Behind her is a streetscape with colorfully painted buildings stretching in the distance.Diane Valle, MSW ’23, is a Mexican-American, first generation college graduate and graduate student who is a passionate advocate for other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) first generation students. In fact, she founded and is President of First Gen Students of Color (FGSOC), NYU Silver’s newest student organization. She is also an NYU FOCUS Mentor for a first generation undergraduate student of color, an NYU Grad Life Ambassador, and the creator and co-host of the Zealous Podcast, now in its third season, which highlights the journeys of first generation millennials striving to achieve their goals.

A student in Silver’s Extended MSW pathway, Diane continued her full-time job as a paralegal at the Legal Aid Society during her first two years in the program. She was compelled to pursue her MSW by her experience at Legal Aid, where she saw lawyers and social workers collaborate to help clients. “I was interested in the legal world but I wasn’t sure earning a JD was the way I wanted to help my community,” she said. “I earned my undergraduate degree in political science so I already understood how systems work. What I was lacking was a micro lens: the ability to understand a person’s feelings, their minds, and how their experience is affecting them as an individual. Because I speak Spanish, I would sometimes translate for our clients, and I realized that it was the social worker who was doing that personal work with the client. I didn’t have those skills and that’s what motivated me to get my MSW.” 

Making a Home at Silver for First Gen Students of Color

With just over one semester left at Silver until she earns her degree, Diane said she has gained the skills she was seeking to have a career with meaningful impact. However, she noted, her first couple of years in the program were very challenging. “It was early in the COVID-19 pandemic. I was the only person in my family of six who was employed then and you could say I was on the front lines. I was taking intake calls at Legal Aid from people who were losing loved ones and were not in good mental health. Hearing their experiences, being in social work school, dealing with everything that was happening externally, and then being a first gen grad student was very difficult.”

Her feeling of isolation as a result of navigating a predominantly white institution during the height of the pandemic is what led Diane to create FGSOC. “In my second year, I found some community after meeting other first gen students,” she said. “I voiced concerns to Silver’s Office of Inclusive Engagement and Student Life (IESL) about the lack of community and visibility for BIPOC first gen students. They suggested the creation of a student organization and offered a lot of support. IESL has been essential to my experience here at NYU.”

FGSOC, which held its first networking event on November 16, aims to “expand accessibility and resources to first gen students of color to and within NYU Silver through student life engagement, networking opportunities with alums, as well as through campus community building.” Said Diane, “I hope this group is able to be a second home to all the first gen BIPOC students at Silver and that through time this organization is able to continue the legacy that first gen social workers are bringing to academia.” 

Serving the Wider University Community

Diane’s early experience at Silver also inspired her to apply to be an NYU Grad Life Ambassador, for which she receives a stipend to plan and facilitate student events. “I wanted to bring more inclusivity when it comes to the events that are available for graduate students, especially those who, like me, have to work. There are also people who have children, who have families, and I felt the events weren’t always inclusive when it came to that population and people in part-time programs. I thought, ‘if I’m part of the Ambassador program, I can help bring ideas to the table and do that work.’” 

Her role as a FOCUS Mentor is a purely volunteer activity. “My mentee is terrific,” Diane said. “It feels great to be there for a first gen undergrad of color in the way that I wish someone had been there for me when I was an undergraduate. While my parents and siblings gave me a lot of love and support, they didn’t have college experience so they didn’t really know how to give me guidance.”

Thriving in the Classroom and the Field

Diane struggled to choose a favorite class she has so far at Silver. “I’ve had so many that I’ve liked and for different reasons,” she said. She ultimately settled on two that were particularly impactful. “My policy class with Professor Amanda Mays my first semester was incredibly empowering. If not for that class, I wouldn’t know how to use my skills and my voice for others in all the places I have ended up. Then there was my Practice I/II class with Professor Jessica Chock-Goldman. She really helped me to grow as a clinician and to feel comfortable in a practice setting. She always encouraged us to think outside the box. I think that’s essential when it comes to academia and social work. It takes a lot of creativity to make changes and help society to improve and adapt to current times.”

For her Field learning, Diane did her first placement at the Legal Aid Society as a social work intern in the Immigration Law Unit. There she assessed clients’ mental and physical health needs and provided them with support, referrals, and advocacy as they navigated their immigration proceedings. This year she is a social work intern at the Family Defence Clinic, a collaboration between Brooklyn Defenders and NYU Law School. She and two law students are teamed up to assist a client currently in court trying to get their child out of foster care. She explained, “I am the point of contact when it comes to collaborating with NYC Administration for Children’s Services workers, doing what I can to help my client get their child back, helping them get to required services or connecting them to services that they need, and providing supportive counseling as well.”

Looking Ahead

Once she graduates, Diane plans to pivot from the focus in her Field learning on social work and the law to pursuing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion role in academia. “Throughout my time at Silver, I’ve done a lot of advocating for myself and other first gen students of color,” she said. “That made me realize that I would like to do DEI work in higher education specifically.” 

Eventually, Diane said, she may move into DEI work in the legal field. “I am passionate about the legal profession. The legal system is important to understand and to know how to navigate in order to help my community. But the system needs more diversity. We need more people at the table who come from different backgrounds, and I’m hoping to make that change.”