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School of Social Work News

    Sam Gilliam, Artist of “The Real Blue,” Has Died

    Sam Gilliam, the abstract artist whose work “The Real Blue” was commissioned for the School of Social Work died on Saturday at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 88. “The Real Blue” is the centerpiece of the School’s original art collection.

    “Sam Gilliam brought his dynamic use of structures and brilliant deployment of colors to the “The Real Blue,” said Dean Emerita Paula Allen-Meares. This commissioned work of art anchors the collection of artistic works at the School of Social Work. He contextualized this work within the spirit of social justice and the vibrant tapestry of the America we are becoming. His presence lives on in this stunning piece that will continue to influence our social work community.”

    Professor Larry Gant sees in the piece the current issues of social work: identities, configurations and critical intersectionality.  “Nothing fits, but it does. The colors are different but they fit; the shapes fit but they aren’t supposed to.  What do we take from that?  It’s abstract art that doesn’t have answers but compels questions and gets your attention, and that’s a really good intent: it gets students able to sit with ambiguity.”

    A Conversation with New Dean Beth Angell

    It's important to be able to get up every day and to feel like something we do will help to make a better world.

    On July 1, 2022, Kathryn Elizabeth (Beth) Angell was appointed as dean of the School of Social Work. She was previously dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Social Work and, before that, held a number of leadership roles at Rutgers University in New Jersey. We caught up with Angell as she prepared to move to Ann Arbor, to learn more about her experiences, perspectives and hopes for the future.

    Ongoing: Tell us about your path to social work.

    Beth Angell: Like many in our ranks, I was one of those people who was drawn to social work because of my own life experiences. My mother had a serious mental illness, a psychotic disorder, and she committed suicide when I was nine. That was the backdrop of my childhood. I was raised by my father, a single dad, and I was a first-generation student. I didn't have parents to help guide my decision-making about what I studied and I found myself, after several major changes, gravitating to psychology because I wanted to try to understand what happened to me in my life.

    I worked in a neuroscience lab for a little while and had a wonderful lab director who took an interest in mentoring me. One day, he said, "I'm really struck when I talk to you about what you want to do with your life. You're a lot more interested in helping people than you are about being a lab scientist, and you ought to think about the field of social work."

    Once I found social work, I really never looked back, because the way of thinking about structural causes of situations is different from other disciplines. Social work gives us ways of understanding how people react, and how what looks like resistant behavior is really grounded in lived experience. If it's the right place for you, you know.

    In my very first field placement as a social worker, I was in a community mental health agency. One of the first things I had to do was deliver medication to a client at home, and the instruction given to me was to "make sure he takes the medication in front of you." But the client slammed the door on my foot and said "No, thank you. I don't want to. Take it back." And I didn't know what to do.

    So my doctoral work focused on what happens when society decides someone needs help, but they don't think they do, or at least not the help we are offering. How do we approach that situation and how do we find ways to address the need? How do we help in a way that's as empowering as possible and how do we give people real choices? How do we set up services so that we don't just automatically oppress the disempowered?

    As part of my research, I studied how we organize services for people with psychiatric disorder, and what I found is that we set up a lot of baseline expectations of our clients - quid pro quos - that are not explicit or clear. There's a lot of hidden coercion in the way we do business. That led me to study the way we use language, specifically verbal, to regulate choice. I studied how psychiatrists, in particular, use the way they talk to clients to open up or shut down opportunities for clients to talk about what they need or want. To do that, I learned a sociolinguistic technique called conversation analysis.

    Ongoing: You are a first-generation college student. How does that experience guide you as a dean?

    BA: As a first-generation student, I know how it feels to not be sure you belong.

    I was lucky as an undergraduate: I had people who took a special interest in me, and who saw potential in me and who mentored me. That's what I want to see for our students, especially students who come from any marginalized identity or circumstance - that they feel as though the university is a place where they do belong, where there are people who can guide them and who will help them come into their own.

    The way that shows up in leadership is that you need to be really aware of policies that are exclusive, you need to be aware of ways in which "the way we've always done it" can be a door that shuts for someone. I carry that identity as a first-generation student and am aware of those kinds of interactions.

    Ongoing: The future looks different in 2022 than when you started as a dean at Virginia Commonwealth Univesity in 2018. How has the turbulence of the last 18 months changed priorities in social work and academia?

    BA: The University of Michigan, like everywhere in the country, has to figure out what social work looks like in a post-pandemic world. We're hearing a lot of dialogue within our field that questions the foundations of what we've done in the name of social work. Can this be made a just profession, or do we need to start over again? We were having those conversations before, but the so-called "twin pandemics" - COVID-19 and our country's reckoning with its history of racism - have centered that dialogue, because we're all questioning everything, from our safety every day in the world to our assumptions about who and how we are helping.

    What role does social work play in this world? How will Michigan, as the leading U.S. school of social work, supply the thought leadership that will transform our field in the future? And is that a future where we're going to continue to produce lots and lots of social workers? I hope so, but that's a question we have to wrestle with.

    And the other challenge - this is really, really pressing - is how we create sustainable careers for these bright young minds we're educating and whom we envision going out and shaping social work of the future. How do we make sure that they don't graduate with crushing debt and how do we advocate for the kind of careers, and the kind of pay, that will allow them to have sustainable careers as people who want to do good in the world and solve these thorny problems we are facing? As the School moves forward, these are the kind of high-level challenges that we need to engage.

    Finally, on the pragmatic level, we're all still figuring out how to come back to work and school. What is education? Is it a brick-and-mortar endeavor, or is it an online endeavor? How do we find our place in this hybrid world? This is a fun challenge because there isn't a right or wrong answer.

    People have talked about how the second year of the pandemic has, in some ways, been harder than the first, because while the first year was scary and challenging in its own way, the second year has been more about pivoting, reacting and responding to the vaccines and then the variants, so trying to keep spirits up has been harder this year. Our lives are forever changed. As the dean, you have to be empathic and make sure that students' needs stay in the center. You also have to honor employees' needs for flexibility given the changes that have happened in their lives.

    As a leader, you have to be able to pull back from your own defensiveness and understand that you're learning and remember that none of us have ever been through this before. And you have to listen and you have to decide. Sometimes, a decision isn't popular, but if you're transparent with people about how you made that decision, then it tends to be something we can all live with.

    Ongoing: Beyond professional goals, what excites and inspires you about moving to Michigan? Tell us about your family. Who is coming with you?

    BA: My husband, Andrew Murphy, is a political scientist; he's going to be at LSA as a professor of political science. We have a 13-year-old dog named Connor. We have two adult sons, and one of the very happy coincidences of this move is that it puts us closer to where both of them live. One is an MSW student - so I have another social worker in the family - and also a former football player, so he's really, really excited to go to games in the Big House. We're all excited. Ann Arbor is a great place to take in football and all the cultural offerings of an incredible university and college town.

    Ongoing: How do you manage the demands of being a dean?

    BA: Balance is really important. I am an extrovert and one of those people who enjoy meetings. I love it when a team gets into the flow together. That's the part of the job that's really energizing for me.

    At the same time, to keep your sense of balance, you have to have activities that help you step back from the small decisions that you have to make day to day and allow you to think in a larger frame. For me, that's running. I'm not a very fast runner but I've been running for about 15 years and I find that that gets me out of my head a little bit.

    Ongoing: You're from North Carolina, which leads to a very specific question about barbecue preference - Eastern (vinegar-based) or Western (tomato):

    BA: Oh, Eastern style, I have my own drum smoker and we were just debating about whether or not it's coming with us. It's moved from New Jersey to Virginia. But yeah, I smoke my own pulled pork and when I'm entertaining vegans, I make jackfruit barbecue.

    Ongoing: Jackfruit?

    BA: Yes, jackfruit. You buy it in a can at Trader Joe's and it has this really interesting texture. It has seeds and pulp and you pull it apart with your fork and it mimics the texture of meat and then you put a lot of barbecue sauce on it.

    Ongoing: What gives you hope as a dean?

    BA: Hope is in the doing and in the imagining and in the creating. Hope is watching the future that you see being crafted by our students and faculty. It's an important thing to be able to get up every day and to feel like something we do today will help to make a better world. As dean, I get this wonderful ringside seat to watch the passions of our students, and that gives me a lot of hope.

    • June 23, 2022
  3. Finn McLafferty Bell
    Finn McLafferty Bell Successfully Defends Dissertation

    Finn McLafferty Bell, Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Sociology, has successfully defended his dissertation entitled “Marginalized Food Growers in a Changing Environment: Tracing Collective Survival Strategies.” His committee consisted of Sandra Danziger and Katie Richards-Schuster. Bell has accepted a tenure-track assistant professor of Human Services at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

    • June 21, 2022
  4. Garrett Pace
    Garrett Pace Successfully Defends Dissertation

    Garrett Pace, Joint Doctoral Program in Social Work and Sociology, has successfully defended his dissertation entitled "Corporal Punishment Bans in Global Perspective: Conceptualization and Child- and Caregiver-Reported Outcomes.” His committee consisted of Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor. Pace has accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    • June 21, 2022
  5. Daniel J. Fischer
    Dan Fischer’s IPE Team Receives a 2022 Bronze Award for Data Leveraging Project

    Assistant Dean of Field Education Dan Fischer’s Interprofessional Education (IPE) team has won a 2022 bronze award from 1EdTech for their collaboration with U-M Informational & Technology Services.  Their project, Competency-Based Tracking for Interprofessional Education Leveraging Institutional Data, will leverage data to track competencies across U-M’s approximately 35 IPE offerings, which involve 5,000 students from 10 schools across 3 campuses. The team is in the final stages of preparing this project for launch and utilization on the U-M campuses.

  6. Karla  Goldman
    Karla Goldman Examines the Culture of Silence in Reform Judaism

    Professor Karla Goldman’s op-ed in Lilth asks what can be expected from Reform Judaism in the wake of reports of sexual discrimination released by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC) in Cincinnati. Goldman shares her own personal history as the first tenure-track woman faculty member on the HUC’s Cincinnati campus, and describes her lawsuit against HUC for wrongful dismissal based on gender bias. 

    “As a historian of women in Reform Judaism, I have studied Reform’s very real commitment to women’s advancement within Judaism together with its century-long pattern of combining strong rhetoric on female equality with a reality of subordination and exclusion,” writes Goldman. “I knew this culture and its silencing all too well.”

    • June 17, 2022
    New Legislative Action Happening in East Lansing and Washington, D.C.

    Thanks in part to actions by the Joint Task Force on Stipends (JTFOS), Payments for Placement (P4P), other schools of social work in Michigan, and NASW-Michigan, we have encouraging news of legislative action happening in East Lansing and Washington, D.C. 

    In the Michigan legislature, Senate Bill 1012, which calls for the creation of a new Student Mental Health Apprenticeship Retention and Training (SMART) program, has passed the senate. The SMART program would provide state funds for field education stipends for students placed in public school settings providing the students agree to a term of service in public schools after graduation. This legislation has gone to the house, where it has been referred to the Committee on Health Policy.

    In addition, the state legislature is considering budget amendments (Sections 1996 - 2000) that would increase and enhance the behavioral health workforce in Michigan. These crucial investments would bring hundreds of new professionals into communities across Michigan over the next three years through investing in students, training and research.

    In Washington, new legislation to increase Medicare reimbursement rates for clinical social workers has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. The Improving Access to Mental Health Act is part of a comprehensive mental health reform legislative package and was introduced by Senator (and MSW) Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)  and Senator John Barrasso (R-WY). 

    • June 16, 2022
  8. Stacy L. Peterson
    Stacy Peterson Receives the 2022 Distinguished Lecturer Award

    Field Faculty and Lecturer Stacy Peterson has received the 2022 Distinguished Lecturer Award. For more than twenty years, her exceptional dedication and commitment to social work values have made a positive impact on both students and the field. Peterson has presented at multiple national Council on Social Work Education conferences on innovative field practices.

    "Thank you for this wonderful recognition of my work. It is an honor and privilege to be in the company of great leaders and teachers. I am passionate about my work and use the core values of social work (service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence) as a compass in my teaching and serving.  I appreciate this acknowledgment and in these tumultuous times, I remain inspired and hopeful that we can contribute to healing our world." 

    • May 26, 2022
  9. Ashley E. Cureton
    Ashley Cureton is the 2022 Student Union Teacher of the Year

    Assistant Professor Ashley Cureton has been named 2022 Student Union Teacher of the Year. This award is given by the School of Social Work students and recognizes faculty who have demonstrated commitment to improving DEI, made an outstanding and positive contribution to the School’s climate, and whose skills, dedication, understanding and caring have made a positive impact on students.

    "I find teaching to be a profoundly rewarding experience. In fact, I believe I have the best job on the planet (SSW students are the best!). With the philosophy that education functions as a practice of freedom (as the late bell hooks said), I embrace a progressive, holistic, co-learning and engaged pedagogy with the adoption of cultural diversity in the classroom context. Freedom in education allows me to embrace the performative acts associated with teaching, offer a space for change, invention, and spontaneous shifts and serve as a catalyst to draw out thoughtful and critical discussions among students."

    • May 26, 2022
  10. Daphne C. Watkins
    Daphne Watkins Receives 2022 Distinguished Faculty Award

    Professor Daphne Watkins has received the 2022 Distinguished Faculty Award. Watkins is a University Diversity and Social Transformation Professor who studies behavioral interventions for historically marginalized groups, mixed methods approaches to research in context, and leadership development and organizational structures. She is the Director of the Vivian A. and James L. Curtis School of Social Work Center for Health Equity and Research Training. 

    "The SSW Distinguished Faculty Award means a lot to me. As someone trained in anthropology and public health, this acknowledgment speaks to the respect my colleagues have for the interdisciplinary nature of my work and what I bring to the School. Social work has been my home for well over a decade, but not without some uncertainty on my part. Early in my career, I wondered if I could truly embody social work’s values in my research, teaching and service. This award confirms I am not only working hard to represent the School in a positive light globally and domestically but that the faculty see me, respect my efforts and are proud to have me as a colleague.” 

    • May 26, 2022

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