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School of Social Work News

  1. Ashley E. Cureton
    Ashley Cureton Received 2021 Diversity Recognition Award from the Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council

    Assistant Professor Ashley Cureton has received a 2021 Diversity Recognition Award from the Johns Hopkins Diversity Leadership Council. The award recognizes outstanding accomplishments of faculty, staff, students and alumni whose demonstrable efforts advance diversity and inclusion at Johns Hopkins University. “I am so honored to receive this award. My postdoc and lectureship at Johns Hopkins overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic and a heightened awareness of the systemic racism and racial inequities in higher education and across the U.S., so I was adamant about developing effective strategies to create equitable outcomes for underrepresented populations by engaging in DEI initiatives. I hope to continue to engage in DEI work as a new faculty member at the University of Michigan.”

  2. Rogério Meireles Pinto
    Realm of the Dead - Using Art in Social Work Education and Practice

    Each piece of vintage luggage in the installation performance tells a piece of Rogério Pinto's story. Crafted into sculptures, suitcases and trunks recount a period when he was consumed by the loss of his three-year-old sister Marília and his family's struggles after her death.

    Born and raised in Brazil, Pinto, a professor and associate dean for research and innovation at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, found a way through the visual and performing arts to confront a painful past, find peace and forgiveness. He created an award-winning play entitled "Marília," readapted now as a new art project called "Realm of the Dead."

    This community-based art initiative invites the audience to dive into complex subjects from death and parental molestation to ethnicity, race, gender and other issues. It premieres in October at the U-M School of Social Work, which celebrates its centennial. "Realm of the Dead" is an autobiographical project that uses self-referential theater as a vehicle for self-healing and advocacy. Based on pedagogy and theater of the oppressed, it intends to advance social work research and practice, as tools of critical reflection, personal growth and advocacy.

    By exploring the nearly 30 sculptures in the installation, visitors will learn about Pinto's journey out of a childhood of poverty and the trauma followed by the death of his older sister, who was hit by a bus when he was just 10 months old. The audience also will revive the turmoil caused by his father's sexual molestation, the domestic violence during Brazil's military dictatorship and Pinto's arrival, at 21, as an undocumented immigrant in New York City in 1987 and the challenges he faced as a gender nonconforming gay man.

    "I use autobiographical drama theater for personal growth and self-healing and to inspire the audience to find creative ways to resolve personal conflict," Pinto said. "I am particularly interested in inspiring people to think of poor immigrants in more humane ways. I believe that all of us engaging as a community might lead to advocacy around the issues dealt with in the 'Realm of the Dead,' such as the prevention of childhood accidents, sexual trauma and poverty."

    Megan Leys, U-M graduate student in social work, said she cried the first time she read Pinto's play. "I was left speechless by its power and impact. 'Marília' left me thinking about my own identity and positionality," she said. "It pushed me to think about parts of my identity I don't always share, and forced me to consider if and why I might be ashamed to express those elements. It allowed me to look inwardly and consider personal growth and explore my own identity." Last fall, Leys was a student in one of Pinto's classes, in which he incorporated activities based on his play. The course aimed to increase students' knowledge about diversity, anti-Black racism, human rights, and social and economic justice by encouraging students to explore the power of autobiographical approaches to self-healing and advocacy. "Despite living in the midst of a global pandemic, and the amount of grief I felt about lost loved ones, those activities provided me with a sense of connectedness and community and reminded me why I wanted to be in social work," Leys said. "This feeling proved to me that performance and autobiographical investigation is a wonderfully effective tool to improve our own social work. I look forward to seeing the installation in person this fall."

    Art helps to heal, promotes classroom discussions

    After visiting the installations and exploring Pinto's journey, students will be invited to participate in pedagogical exercises. One, called "The Hair Dresser," is based on Pinto's rendition of his work experiences in the United States, before he became a professor.

    The goal is to help participants practice improvisational and collaborative empathy and develop listening and empathy skills around grief and loss of a loved one, poverty, immigration, gender identity and LGBTQAI2+ issues.

    Another exercise called a "Marília Moment" is based on Pinto's evocation of his dead sister to help him face and address difficult moments in his life, for example, homophobic violence and lack of resources as an undocumented immigrant.

    This exercise asks participants to embody a gesture or a characteristic of someone—who has passed away or is still alive—and develop a strategy for overcoming a personal issue based on the person in question.

    "By sharing his personal experiences, his vulnerabilities and his successes, Pinto creates a safe space where all participants feel comfortable revealing their true selves," said recent social work graduate Megan Malaski. "Pinto has created an art installation that speaks to lengths about resiliency. His story takes the audience to parts of his past that have shaped him into the person he is today. "Through these activities, students can learn the intersectionality of a person, how people are affected through their lens of the world, and overall that a person's strengths and resiliency are not always identified by oneself."

    Your own suitcase

    What would you put in your "suitcase"?

    Viewers will be encouraged to answer this and other questions: How do personal objects help you tell a story about who you are and about your many identities? How can specific art forms and practices support social justice in different contexts, considering demographic diversity, diversity, equity and inclusion?

    "I recommend autobiographical exploration to all, and to social work students in particular, as a way to prepare them for 'use of self' in social work practice," Pinto said. "It is important to envision creative ways to help their clients engage in self-healing, community-level engagement, political involvement, letter-writing campaigns and more."

    Marc Arthur, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Social Work, has worked closely with Pinto on several projects, including the expansion of a social justice art collective including students from across the university. During a course he taught to immerse students in art-based social justice, Arthur used the play "Marília"—with Pinto's participation in the classroom—to discuss autobiographical work and process.

    "As a homework assignment, I asked the students to create their own "suitcase" by using boxes and then to bring them to class for show and tell," Arthur said. "It was a very rewarding exercise that helped students understand some of the ways that self processes of introspection are useful forms of self-realization and community engagement." For Arthur, the community-based theater is a growing field with few boundaries. "Rogério's project is deeply interdisciplinary with an eye toward the fine arts, by bringing together a play and an art installation from his social work perspective," he said. "Seldom, the visual and performing arts come together in a community-based theater like the 'Realm of the Dead.'"

    The installation will be on view Oct. 4-17 in the Lower Level Atrium at the School of Social Work.

    Lisa Wexler Describes New Research for Preventing American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Suicides

    Lisa Wexler’s new research “A New Strength-Focused Framework to Prevent American Indian and Alaska Native Youth Suicide” is featured in this month’s National Institute’s of Health research highlights. Wexler’s research centers around Indigenous culture, knowledge, beliefs, and community collaboration.

    View the 2021 Centennial Homecoming Festivities

    Last week, we hosted an in-person (and virtually accessible) Centennial Homecoming and Reunion weekend. This was our very first in-person alumni event since the pandemic started over 18 months ago, and it was a lot of fun to see so many wonderful friends! The feedback we received from guests has been uplifting and inspiring. One alum stated that the weekend was like “chicken soup for the soul”. Thanks to everyone who joined us virtually and in person. 

    Treating with Equality: Supporting LGBTQIA2S+ Individuals in Health Care Settings

    All Class Reunion Lunch

    • September 29, 2021
  5. Kristin S. Seefeldt
    Kristin Seefeldt Quoted in NPR on How Government Aid Has Reduced Poverty in Michigan

    Associate Professor Kristin Seefeldt was featured in an NPR article that analyzes the decrease of Michigan residents living in poverty as a result of financial aid assistance. Seefeldt discusses how pandemic stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits are helping families.

  6. Robert Joseph  Taylor
    Brooking Institute Highlights Robert Taylor’s Research on Black Extended Family Networks

    Professor Robert Joseph Taylor’s study on the inner workings of Black extended family networks is featured in the Brooking Institute’s “Class Notes.” Taylor’s research shows how younger Black women serve as crucial pillars in their families due to their high levels of involvement both within their family networks.

  7. Bradley J. Zebrack
    Brad Zebrack Receives National Cancer Institute R01 Grant

    Professor Brad Zebrack has been awarded a 5-year R01 from the National Cancer Institute for the project "Social genomic mechanisms of health disparities among adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer survivors." The grant will allow study of molecular pathways that represent potential targets for interventions to protect AYA survivors against the adverse biological effects of social isolation, socioeconomic disadvantage, and other psychological and social determinants of health in the highly stressful context of cancer. The study’s intent is to identify functional genomic pathways through which social and psychological factors influence gene regulation and alter health outcomes in AYAs, and to define the role of such effects in structuring health disparities in post-treatment survivorship.

    • September 16, 2021
  8. Trina R. Shanks
    Trina Shanks Talks to the Washington Post about the Impact of Expanded Child Tax Credits

    Professor Trina Shanks is quoted in a Washington Post article about how federal relief programs initiated during the pandemic have been surprisingly effective at lifting people and families out of poverty.  President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposal would continue some of these  financial supports, which could potentially cut childhood poverty rates in half. “The whole point of the child tax credit is, if a family is working at all, it pushes the family above the poverty line so their children aren’t suffering,” said Shanks.

  9. H. Luke  Shaefer
    Luke Shaefer quoted in New York Times on Government Assistance Lowering Food Insecurity

    Professor Luke Shaefer spoke with the New York Times about how the stimulus checks issued during the pandemic brought an immediate reduction in food insecurity, which, he says, continues to fall. “We could potentially be at the lowest level of food insecurity ever recorded, because of the government transfers,” said Shaefer.

  10. Fatima Salman
    Fatima Salman Talks with WDET About How 9/11 Changed Life in America for American Muslims

    Fatima Salman, SSW Engage Program Manager was recently interviewed on WDET’s All Things Considered program about how for American Muslims, 9/11 changed life in America. Fatima said, “It wasn’t just worrying about our country, or worrying that that happened to our country, but it was also the worry of what’s going to happen to us as a community in America.”

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