2016 Phi Alpha Beta Epsilon Induction Ceremony
Congratulations to the 25 new members of the St. Kate's - St. Thomas BSW Honor Society! Inductees include:
- Sarah Barrie
- Lindsey Erdmann
- Shoua Her
- Breanna Hofmeister
- Erica Janssen
- Alison Kath
- Kristin Martin
- Carlene Mendel
- Megan Quinlivan
- Hannah Rudkin
- Maggie Sheats
- Kelly Sonnek
- Ann Duevel
- Carissa Franklin
- Ashley Hipp
- Shaunequa James
- Jayme Jones
- Maihlee Lee
- Marissa Melby
- Kelly Mills
- Angela Rouch
- Angela Schutta
- Brooke Soller
- Lindsay Testa
- Abbie Thebault-Spieker
The induction ceremony on February 14 was led by current Beta co-presidents, Sarita Lauth & Virginia Sanchez-Ramirez, and the Beta faculty adviser, Dr. Laurel Bidwell. Dean Barbara Shank introduced the School of Social Work and the keynote speaker was Dr. Jessica Toft, Associate Professor and NASW-MN President Elect.
View pictures from the ceremony on our Facebook page»
Practice Broad and Deep: Social Work as Democratic Agent
Jessica Toft, MSW, PhD, LISW
What an achievement to be inducted into the Beta Epsilon Chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society. You represent those students who aspire to be both scholars and seekers of social justice. Thinkers AND doers. I think the motto is telling: “Through knowledge, the challenge to serve.” In the very germ of your organization, you have the core ingredients for a healthy democracy: an enlightened society and the drive to do something about it.
You know, I had to do a little digging to learn about Phi Alpha Honor Society, and I was intrigued to find out that this society was founded by students in the early 1960s. From your social work history class, you’ll remember the ‘60s as a time when disenfranchised groups fought for their rights to be full members in society. Not long before the Phi Alpha Honor Society was formed, the Supreme court ended legal segregation in public schools in 1954; in 1955 the Montgomery bus boycotts occurred after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat; in 1960 Ruby Bridges was escorted by Federal Marshals to school as the first Black Child to be integrated into an all-white segregated school; in 1960 alone, lunch counter sit-ins occurred in over 30 cities (mostly by students); and in 1962 the Supreme Court declared segregation in public transportation illegal.
In this backdrop of growing awareness about democratic rights, students came together and created this honor society. A formal constitution and organization was developed in 1962. Initially just six charter chapters, today there are more than 400. I think this ground-up chapter growth demonstrates the spirit of social work. It emulates involvement and dedication to develop something for the common good.
However, before I get to the importance of democracy to the profession of social work, let’s discuss why your education, and therefore your achievement in it, is so impressive and important.
This education, as generalist social workers, relies on a broad range of knowledge bases: Sociology, psychology, political science, biology, history, economics, anthropology, cultural studies, gender studies, and philosophy. We are a field that sees the importance of integrating the best from many academic disciplines to understand the whole person, within whole systems. And even more, we apply these different academic, theory-driven fields – we bring them into being by working directly with people. Anthropology doesn’t have that. Political science doesn’t have that. Philosophy doesn’t have that – I mean, when’s the last time you heard of a Philosophy worker? These many academic bodies of knowledge inform your work in important and diverse ways.
Take this situation …
An aging grandfather with dementia lives with his daughter and her children in their home. As a single parent family, the mother takes care of her two children, her father, has a full-time job, and has a house to maintain.
But, let’s look more closely at her situation applying different academic lenses. (Family members and friends, you get a taste of the social work classroom):
We look at the family and see an overburdened caregiver with many responsibilities: Through a history and gender studies lens, we understand the past and persistent role of mother as caregiver and the mostly unrecognized-history of women as paid workers (especially by lower-income women) and how society assumes these roles of caregiver and paid worker are distinct, (when in actuality, they overlap). We have empathy for her because we see the impacts of history and gender on her situation.
We see a woman who has little time to her own needs, gets little sleep, and feels overwhelmed, hopeless, and dejected. We see the aging adult who wants to stay in his home, who would feel abandoned and unmoored without the ritual and security of home and family: Through a psychology lens, we see the signs of burgeoning depression of the mother and understand these feelings of the grandparent of identity and ego lodged in familiarity and routine.
We see an aging adult who was so vital and productive become irrational, irritable, prone to wandering and even aggressive at times: Through a biology lens, we can understand this simply as the progression of the disease.
We may see the mother having to leave the grandparent at home alone or else lose her job and the money to pay for extra home care expenses. At times she may come home to find the stove on or the water running: Through an economics lens, we can understand the need for income in making risky decisions.
This may be a family in whose culture, admitting an aging parent into a Memory Loss Unit is not considered: Through an anthropological or cultural studies lens, we understand the importance and meaning of cultural values and practices to the family.
From some coworkers and friends, the parent hears urgings about safety and reliable care, while others highlight quality of life and the grandparent’s self-determination: Through a philosophy lens we understand this as a weighing of values - an ethical decision.
Feeling isolated, we see the mother wanting to talk with others about their similar situations and joining with others to change structures that disregard the importance of their work that benefits everyone. Through a political science lens, we can understand the drive to raise one’s consciousness and mobilize in groups.
So, not only can we see a situation through different lenses, we can also start to help frame the problem with the client and with the client formulate work within the family and larger systems. Perhaps
- talking with a social work clinician about the feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed and how to alleviate that feeling and get some help and respite care;
- maybe setting up a doctor’s appointment with the aging parent to see if one of the dementia medications might slow down the progression of the disease;
- perhaps readying the client for a conversation with her employer about more flexible work hours or accessing family leave policies;
- perhaps helping to find a caregiver support group or even creating one if none is to be found;
- perhaps discussing if there would be a time when the aging parent might need more significant assistance – identifying what that would look like and how that might happen within a culturally acceptable way and if not, what would the mother need in terms of more supports;
- discussing getting involved, even by email and Facebook notices, in the caregivers’ political action network that advocates for more recognition and support of caregivers’ needs by the state and employers.
A social work education, then, has this advantage of seeing not just one type of problem and one solution, but many, and in this way, to consider the needs of the whole person and the needs of the whole society. As you can see, social work is the original interprofessional discipline!
Now to turn to why social work is and has even more potential to be an agent of democracy. First, of course, is our call to justice in the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. Our Preamble States: Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. The Code begins: The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.
We are the only profession to have the term “social justice” in our Code of Ethics – the only one to claim this as a core part of our identity and mission. But if social justice is our distinct professional calling card … how do we define it? Good question.
We seem to be able to identify social injustice pretty well in social work: We are committed to helping the oppressed and disenfranchised. But, what are these persons disenfranchised from? Well, the opposite of "disenfranchised" is "enfranchised."
Meriam-Webster defines this in three parts: 1) to set free (as from slavery), 2) to endow with a franchise as to admit to the privileges of a citizen, especially the suffrage, and 3) to endow with the franchise as to admit to political privileges or rights. Enfranchisement relates to civil and political goals – goals of equal citizenship. And as alluded to, this is not just the right to vote, although that is crucial. I believe social justice is to be recognized and be able to embody full citizenship: the civil, political, social, and economic rights of citizenship. It is not the right to have services that is at question, it is the right to be able to live out one’s rights, or as Hannah Arendt said, “The right to have rights.” Paradoxically in social work, we should foremost help solve the issues that compel persons to seek our services in the first place!
Yet, the sad truth is that all too often, citizenship or membership is not really defined by inclusion, but exclusion. Denied a path to become a citizen, denied the right to vote, barred from sitting on juries, divided into segregated establishments, denied social security benefits and public assistance, living with unequal pay and unequal treatment by law enforcement and sentencing guidelines, denied the elemental right to clean drinking water. In theory, many people in the U.S. have citizenship. However, in their daily lives, many groups know all too well that their citizenship is not recognized equally. And this is where social workers like you are needed.
And the degree of inclusion into the citizenry cannot be understood without considering the well-being of the whole, the democracy. In a healthy democracy, we would all be considered equally morally worthy and we would therefore have an equal political voice. No individual should be seen as more important than another in a democracy. Truly democratic structures would support this - to be recognized as an equal member. For social work then, the question is to belong or not to belong within the democracy. And this is where social workers like you are needed.
And the idea that social work should be an agent for democracy, is not a new one, it has a track record of more than a hundred years:
- Jane Addams (A founding mother of social work) wrote Democracy and Social Ethics in 1902 and toured the country arguing for the political rights of women and the social rights of mothers. The U.S. settlement house movement which she steadfastly promoted was based on the framework of democracy and citizenship.
- Julia Lathrop and Grace Abbott, early social work leaders, were first administrators of the Children's Bureau. Decreasing infant mortality, developing juvenile courts, battling child labor, they worked for children’s civil and social rights.
- Harry Hopkins, previous settlement house social worker was the czar of public relief during the Great Depression. He fashioned major emergency public assistance and public works programs for the first time as America plunged in to deep poverty, ensuring social and economic rights.
- Did you know that the Social Security Act, the foundation of our welfare state, was primarily written by a social worker, Frances Perkins, and the first woman to hold a significant executive branch appointment in the US as Secretary of Labor? She addressed social and economic rights.
- African American Social Worker Dorothy Height brought racial inequality to the fore and worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fighting for civil and political rights.
- Whitney Young, an African American social worker from Minnesota, was the National President of NASW and worked as advisor to Lyndon Johnson to craft the War on Poverty Programs, advancing social and economic rights.
- Few know that Eleanor Roosevelt had been a settlement house worker. A woman who worked to end child labor, help begin the NAACP and was the chief author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!
Although these people were leaders, they were not alone. They worked with others; they built communities of forward-thinking colleagues, just like you in Beta Epsilon. These were people of courage and conviction: Once your mind has been broadened and deepened, as in Beta Epsilon, it is hard to turn back to methods that only address symptoms, rather than underlying causes. This is a democratically-inspired organization in a democratic discipline, merging learning and action. What I want to say to you as you move forward is this: use your knowledge, experience, and courage to help promote democratic aims. “Through knowledge, the challenge to serve to advance a democratic society.” This is where social workers like you are needed.
Thank you so much for this distinct honor to speak and mark this occasion of the induction of these worthy members into the Beta Epsilon Chapter of the Phi Alpha Honor Society. Congratulations!