“I consider myself a radical social worker,” said Rebecca Keel, a master’s of social work student, speaking to her fellow students at Richmond’s slave burial ground. “The word ‘radical’ means ‘root cause.’ As social workers, we need to be thinking about the root causes of issues. Structural racism, social oppression and how that manifests in people’s lives – that’s what being a social worker is.”
As part of the daylong “Richmond [Re]Visited: An Orientation to Racial [In]Justice in RVA,” VCU social work students of all levels — undergraduates, master’s students and doctoral candidates — packed into four buses and traveled to sites in Richmond’s Greater Fulton and Shockoe Bottom neighborhoods, both of which have been marked by racial discrimination.
In Shockoe Bottom, the students visited the slave burial ground and Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, where they learned Richmond was early America’s second-largest slave market and heard the story of Gabriel, an enslaved man who planned a slave revolt in 1800 but was hanged once the plan was discovered.
“Shockoe Bottom is a place that we are coming to understand is as significant to the history of the country as St. John’s Church up the hill [from the slave burial grounds] where Patrick Henry gave the ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech,” said Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice and Equality.
The VGEC started in July 2010 with a $2.2 million HRSA grant meant to address the simultaneous aging of Virginia’s population and the shortage of health care professionals who are trained in geriatrics.
The current grant supports interprofessional geriatrics training for aspiring and practicing professionals with a focus on dementia care and falls prevention. Trainees include professional health care providers, residents, interns, students, academic faculty members, direct care workers, older adults and their families and caregivers.
The project staff includes faculty and staff from VCU’s Schools of Allied Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Social Work, as well as faculty and staff from these and other disciplines at UVA and EVMS.
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work is comprised of people with a variety of backgrounds, interests and paths. Annemarie Conlon, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the school, found her way to the school through a slightly different way.
What were you doing before you joined VCU?
I was collaborating with Liz James at Lesbian Health Initiative, an educational nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers in healthcare and promoting health and wellness for LGBT-identified women and transgender men through access, education and advocacy programs. The primary objective of the LHI project was to increase cervical and breast cancer education, screening and follow-up care of under and uninsured lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identified women in Houston, Texas with expanded outreach to Hispanic/Latina and African American LGBT women. In my role, I worked with Liz to design a research protocol and write a cancer mini-grant which was selected for funding.
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When you’re transgender, finding a doctor who understands your specific needs can be a challenge, so now the VCU School of Medicine is taking a new step to help.
Rob Phillips’ Chesterfield consignment store continues to grow, and now along with professional success he can finally celebrate who he is personally too.
“It’s awesome. I feel more at peace,” says Phillips, explaining that he began transitioning from female to male three years ago after decades of feeling different.
Weeks after starting testosterone, the now 43-year-old suffered a stroke, ended up in the hospital and faced the unimaginable.
“I felt like I was on exhibit of some sort while I was there,” Phillips recalls his first hospital stay as a trans male. “They actually started funneling a lot of people in. I felt like a freak show almost.”
“Health care and the transgender population have not been friends, and there are a lot of horror stories,” says VCU professor Tarynn M. Witten, Ph.D. (M.S.W.’03/SW).
Gaye Shinall Jones (B.S.W.’90/SW; Cert.’93/AHP; M.S.W.’93/SW) knew how to draw connections and bring people together. In many ways, she was an exemplar of social work. Jones saw a need, worked to fill the void and brought people together to sustain positive change.
No one knew this better than her family. “From the first day she started the social work program at VCU, she was always trying to pull people together,” Gaye’s husband, Deacon William “Bill” Jones, said. She was a natural for group collaboration and she would often reach out student colleagues to bring them together for study groups, alumni meetings or sometimes to just be social and have fun.
A Virginia Commonwealth University student helped facilitate the early stages of a partnership between two nonprofit organizations that will help children from developing countries receiving lifesaving medical procedures at hospitals in the United States.
Allie Bashkoff, a senior in VCU’s School of Social Work, has been working as part of a field placement at World Pediatric Project, which sends pediatric specialists to provide care for children in developing countries in the Caribbean and Central America and also hosts children in need of complex care who are transported to U.S. and advanced regional medical facilities.
As part of her field placement, Bashkoff was asked to help research whether or not another nonprofit organization would be willing to partner with World Pediatric Project to provide transportation to bring seriously ill children to the U.S. for treatment.
“We were having to pay for flights for kids out-of-pocket, so we were trying to find a new organization that we could partner with,” Bashkoff said.
Hands-on experience is essential to social work education. It reinforces the material taught in the classroom and provides opportunities for students to apply and practice what they have learned. The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work recognizes the importance of experience in education and is dedicated to not only providing opportunities for student experience but increasing the variety and breadth of those opportunities as well. This spring school faculty members, Alex Wagaman, Ph.D., and Matthew Bogenschutz, Ph.D., piloted a new opportunity for B.S.W. junior and seniors to supplement their required field experiences. They developed the B.S.W. Federal Policy Fellow program. The program is a competitive fellowship that provides students the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., to engage lobbyists, advocates and policymakers.
“Being a part of the inaugural Policy Fellowship has been incredibly fulfilling,” B.S.W. junior Rebecca Carter said. “I now feel empowered to enact change on a larger scale than I’d ever considered before. This experience has broadened my perception of just how powerful social workers can be,” Rebecca continued.
Virginia Commonwealth University provost Gail Hackett, Ph.D., knows that research isn’t just for faculty members and doctoral candidates.
Addressing students April 22 at the VCU Symposium for Undergraduate Research and Creativity, Hackett recalled how early forays into research helped determine her career path.
“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate,” she said. “That independent research did have a huge impact on me. It enriched my academic program as a psychology major and influenced my career choice as a researcher and faculty member.”
Organized by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, the symposium allowed undergraduates to share their investigations into everything from 3-D printing to how chemically profiling mixtures with pool chlorine and brake fluid can help authorities solve crimes of arson.
“What I see here is not just a room full of posters,” Hackett said. “What I see is the tangible evidence of what we mean when we talk about student success and academic rigor at VCU.”