Welcome Social Welfare Graduating Class of 2018/2019/2020 from Dean Jacqueline Mondros!
"We are delighted you are here! As the airlines say, we know you have a lot of choices and it is a true privilege to have you here at Stony Brook. The fact that you chose us and we chose you is already a match made in heaven.
I know something about first days of school. They are both exciting, filled with questions, and perhaps, not a few worries. I still remember the first day of my BSW program and then my first day in the MSW program and then my first day of doctoral studies. I remember how excited I was to begin classes (no more math or so I thought), how terrified I was to meet my first client, and how proud I was to be called a social worker. Every year at orientation, I think about that skinny little kid who dreamed of changing the world.
Well, I didn’t change the world… but I haven’t stopped trying either. Rather than changing the world, I found I was fundamentally changed by social work —by my classes, teachers, my peers, my field supervisor, and especially by the clients and community residents with whom I had the honor to work. They, more than anyone, were my teachers. I began school one person and I came out a dyed in the wool social worker.
If you have a cell phone, take it out and take a selfie… and post it on your facebook page, post it on our page. I want you to remember where you were today and who you are right now. Someday you will think back on it, like I do, and compare it to who you are now.
I want to tell you a little about what you will learn in social work school and how I think it will change you.
The first thing you will learn and maybe the most important lesson of all, is that the critical skill any social worker must possess is empathy. Like the stethoscope of a doctor or the law books of an attorney, social workers most important tool is the ability to step inside someone else’s shoes even when their life story is totally different than yours. You will develop the ability to feel deeply for the predicament of others and to truly seek to understand people whose lives and perhaps values are very different than our own. You will learn how to be respectfully curious about people who are very difficult to care for-- perhaps batterers, or child abusers, or people whose political views are opposite to yours.
Equally important is that you will learn that social workers fundamentally believe in appreciating, respecting and protecting the rights of all. We have zero tolerance for hate, zero tolerance for discrimination. Our empathy insists that we work across differences of race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class, to listen respectfully to others views and stand firmly for human rights for all.
You will learn that our profession is known for the Person-in-Environment construct. It means that we view people as embedded in a social and environmental context where they are either nurtured or harmed and wounded. And we are obliged as social workers to BOTH help make the environment more supportive and nurturing for people, AND to work with individuals and communities to use the resources in their environment, including you and their own personal networks, to improve their condition. So that means we do things like work on improving health care policy, AND work with women to get their breast cancer screenings regularly AND we work with women to have the emotional resources to go through treatment when they need it. It means we work on policy that supports supportive housing for families, AND we help families to access that housing and to stabilize their lives. We work on criminal justice reform, AND help youth return to the community with jobs, and family support, and services. We do it all.
You will learn how to partner with your clients to make things better for themselves. In contrast to other professions, we collaborate with people rather than act as an expert. We learn that people are mostly better able than we are to identify what hurts them and what they need, and figure out solutions, and that true change can only happen if they are engaged in it. I hate to use this phrase right now, given the current television show, but we are really only the handmaidens to the people with whom we work.
You will also learn about the critical importance of fact, data, and evidence in our work. As social workers, we use knowledge and evidence to ground our action. Every problem, be it a population or community or individual client, requires us to learn deeply about the issue, read, study, and evaluate our actions. Ignorance is as recklessness and dangerous in social work as it would be in medicine or engineering. No one wants to go to a doctor who isn’t up on the latest research or cross a bridge designed by an engineer who doesn’t know the science. No one should have a social worker who isn’t practicing according to the latest research findings.
You will learn to develop the habit of being relentless and inventive on behalf of your clients. You will learn to be courteously persistent and how to make things work with little money, few staff members, and zero time. You will be creative. For me, this has been the most fun. Every time I pull something really tough off, I feel its winning in the face of so much adversity.
These lessons changed me deeply. Empathy forced me to confront my own biases and confront some of what I had experienced growing up. I had to begin to work with people, both clients and staff, whom I had never encountered before. I had to swallow uncomfortable feelings, and appreciate the reality of others. I had to become a more accepting person.
I became braver than I ever was. I had to learn to screw up my courage and confront hatred and anger. I had to temper my emotions and learn to talk to bosses and elected officials and funders in a calmly confident and persuasive manner. I had to learn to love data (I’m not a math person), and use it in my work. Now people are sick of me saying, so what’s the evidence?
I had to learn to be flexible. I had to learn to think policy AND clinical practice. I had to learn that I couldn’t run the show—that my goal was to engage and include everyone around me, and to sometimes cede ground in order to arrive at a consensus that would hold us together. I had to learn to develop a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan Z if necessary to get done what was needed.
If this was difficult 40 years ago, one only need to look at the internet or turn on the radio or tv or pick up a newspaper to know that it is 100000 times more difficult today to do this learning, to embody the attributes of a social worker. I am very saddened that we live in an era of deep divides—there are probably some even amongst us in this room—and it is going to be so hard to get past them. It is going to be so hard to empathize, to respect, to empower, to have courage, to use data, to be resilient and resourceful.
This social work journey will not always be fun. You will be tired. You will be angry. You might cry. You will occasionally feel sickened. But I can promise you that this will also be the most exciting and exhilarating ride of your life. And we will be a School that is there with you in every hairpin turn. You have wonderful faculty, wonderful staff, wonderful field liaisons and field instructors, and student peers (yes, the folks sitting next to you and behind and in front of you) who will be a tremendous source of sustenance and support on this trip. I too, am in this moment with you, every step of the way, still trying to get better at what I do.
Today you will begin that journey with some powerful stuff. You will hear from Assistant Federal Defender Jim Moreno and from Jeramine Marlow Wright who will tell us about the wrongful conviction of Mr. Wright, and Jim’s work to get him off death row. We could not start you off with a more compelling tale of justice, and a story which might be life changing for you.
I thank you again for coming to Stony Brook, for becoming our social work colleagues, and I will look forward to hearing from you in the year ahead about your own remarkable magnificent journey. "
Scenes from Orientation 2017!
(below) far left, Dr. Suzanne L. Velázquez, PhD, LCSW, Undergraduate Program Director and USWA Faculty Advisor with incoming BSW class
pic 2 on right: SSW Faculty introductions at MSW Orientation on August 24, 2017
bottom picture: USWA and incoming BSW students sort and pack school supplies they donated and collected as part of their service project to benefit school children in need, who receive services from L.I. Against Domestic Violence