UM School of Social Work Students Discuss Governing, Effective Advocacy
On March 3 in Annapolis, several members of the House of Delegates shared with a large delegation from the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) their insights on governing.
The group of students, faculty members, and administrators heard directly from legislators about their work on key committees in presentations during the School's 2011 Advocacy Day.
Small groups also called on senators and delegates in their offices to advocate for higher education and for financial aid programs that make it easier for students to pay tuition and then enter public service careers. Many students stated their intentions to work in Maryland.
University of Maryland President Jay A. Perman, MD, acknowledged the crucial work that they will do in their careers during his remarks at the outset of the day's activities. Referring to his own background as a pediatrician, he noted that physicians focus on the diagnosis and treatment while it is the social worker who must cope with a patient's home and potential problems.
"That's the work that you all do. You are learning to make better environments for people, at the micro level and at the macro level," Perman said. "I can't think of anything more important to do."
As advocates, SSW students asked lawmakers to back the Governor's proposed budget for the University of Maryland System and to invest in scholarships and the state's Loan Assistance Repayment Program (LARP). At the same time, they acknowledged the state's severe fiscal limits and thanked members personally for past support of education.
"The students had an opportunity to talk to legislators about something very important, and to learn about the best ways to present that information," said SSW Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW.
In the process of making the case, he said, students were able to see the wheels of government grind and better understand the role of lawmakers. "They learn what we, as social workers, can do to help them arrive at conclusions that best support our work," he said.
Barth was recognized in the Senate chamber for leadership and scholarship in remarks by Maryland Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell, MPA, a member of the SSW board of advisors who represents the Baltimore City district in which the University is located.
Members of the group of more than 50 individuals from the SSW observed proceedings in the Senate and in the House of Delegates, which were each engaged in a lively debate of bills.
Delegate Kirill Reznik, JD, MA, of Montgomery County, a member of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, was the first of three delegates who briefed the SSW group.
"Get your degree from this great institution," he told the students from the University of Maryland, "and stay here, please."
Later the students heard from two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Keiffer Jackson Mitchell Jr., JD, and Luke Clippinger, JD, both of whom are freshmen delegates. They share an office and represent districts that border one another in Baltimore City.
Mitchell represents District 44, in which the University is located. Sharing recollections from his campaign, he described the district as very diverse and poverty-stricken in parts. "I need all the social workers I can get," he said of the harsh conditions in some West Baltimore neighborhoods.
Mitchell was introduced as being raised in a family in which several generations have played historic roles as activists. His grandfather, Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr., was known as the nation's 101st senator for his effective lobbying for the NAACP in passage of Civil Rights laws. His uncle, Parren Mitchell, was the first African-American elected to Congress from Maryland.
The nephew recalled being a child riding in the back seat of the car when Rep. Mitchell would pull over to talk with constituents on a street corner, saying "Let's go talk to these guys."
The anecdote prompted a response from SSW Professor Dick Cook, MSW '71, director of the School's Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS), who said his field placement as a student was in Mitchell's Congressional office.
Clippinger, who represents District 46, said he and Mitchell are both native Baltimoreans trying to bring people back to city neighborhoods like the one where he was raised. He said his parents were urban homesteaders in Reservoir Hill. "My family bought the house for a dollar in 1974," he said.
He encouraged the SSW to continue supporting public education in Baltimore. That prompted an exchange with Dan Meisner, a first-year MSW student whose field placement is in Clippinger's district. Meisner serves a social work internship at Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove, which is one of the SSW's Community Resource Schools.
The two lawmakers gave tips on advocacy, such as getting to know lawmakers individually. Mitchell urged students to participate in "interactions like this," and to consider sending a letter as a way to get personal attention. He pulled one from his own belongings as an example.
Clippinger agreed a letter can be far more effective than sending an e-mail that becomes one of many that delegates receive. "It doesn't really have the same impact," he said.
Michael Reisch, PhD, MSW, MA, Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice, coordinated the SSW Advocacy Day for the second year. "The students who participated in this year's Advocacy Day did an outstanding job in the meetings they had with legislators and their staffs. The event provides students with both a valuable educational experience and the opportunity to participate in vitally important civic engagement."