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The U-M SSW and the Latina/o Community

For the first time in U.S. history, Hispanics are the nation's largest minority group (U.S. Census, 2000), with more than 35 million Americans identifying as Hispanic (considering only those who selected a single ethnic identification). Between 1990 and 2000, Washtenaw County saw a 54.2% increase in Hispanic residents, with census figures indicating an increase of 61% in the state of Michigan (Bodipo-Memba, 2003). 

The U-M SSW has been committed to educating Latina/o social workers and social work scholars for over 30 years. The School maintains field placements at community-based agencies in Detroit such as La Sed, Latino Family Services, Community Health and Social Services (CHASS), Casa Maria Family Services, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Southwest Counseling and Development Services and several others. Also, students have been involved in field placements throughout Michigan such as Cristo Rey in Lansing, the Spanish Speaking Information Center in Flint and Hispanic Family Services in Holland. The U-M SSW also sponsors research projects such as MexUSCan, which offers a multi-methodological approach designed to examine socioeconomic conditions of Latina/o youth in Toronto, Detroit and Monterrey; and the Latino Child Welfare Project, which was the first national effort to assess the status of Latino children in the nation's child welfare system. The School also has a history of faculty members serving on the advisory board of the Midwest Migrant Health and Information Services, including Robert Ortega (MSW '83, PhD '91), associate professor of social work at U-M SSW, who's serving currently and is committed to mentoring undergraduate students through programs such as the U-M Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP), a national program that offers outstanding undergraduates from groups historically underrepresented in the humanities, arts, social sciences, engineering and physical or natural sciences the chance to work closely with faculty in an intensive summer research experience. 

Robert Ortega and Lorraine Gutierrez (PhD '89), professor of social work and psychology and faculty director of the U-M Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, have both mentored UROP, SROP and Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GlEU) students. "It's very important for the School to open the borders between the University and the community, and UROP, specifically, is one very concrete example of our commitment to do this. It's inspiring to work with the undergraduate students, knowing that there's a chance that they'll go on to graduate school. Several of the UROP participants have gone on to attend our master's program," says Ortega. His office boasts a large collection of the posters produced by these students over the years on topics such as the impact of faith on the Hispanic community. "I think the promise of what the future may hold for the community begins with undergraduates."



Gutierrez and Ortega are co-investigators on a research project called MexUSCan, along with SSW alumnus and adjunct professor Julio Guerrero ('94). Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the School's Global Program on Youth (GPY), MexUSCan "brings together three international communities and a diverse group of people and organizations," according to the GPY website. "The premise ofMexUSCan is unique in several ways and breaks ground on issues such as partnerships, technology, methodology and target population. The MexUSCan research project offers a multimethodological approach designed to examine socioeconomic conditions of Latina/a youth in Toronto, Detroit and Monterrey. The impact of NAFTA policies and practices on youth is assessed, in part, using the most up-to-date reports and administrative data focusing on five specific socioeconomic indicators: employment, health, education, housing status and crime rate. The project focuses on changes within five year increments: '85-'90 (pre-NAFTA), '91-'95 (NAFTA development), and '96-present (NAFTA implementation)." 


Gutierrez is also involved in the SSW's Community-Based Initiative (CBI), along with Professors Barry Checkoway and Larry Gant (MSW '81 , PhD '86). CBI "strives to build sustainable university-community partnerships which contribute to the quality of life both in diverse communities and in the University, and to strengthen student learning by making community capacity building an integral part of professional training" (CBI website). CBI collaborates specifically with communitybased organizations in Southwest Detroit and Dearborn, currently counting 12 organizations as partners. "The CBI involves MSW students in a network of organizations in southwest Detroit that focus on issues such as housing, environmental justice, education, youth development and immigrant rights. 

It's this kind of innovative strategy that impacts the Hispanic community most obviously. The combination of commitment to the community and an understanding of what higher education can do for people is imperative. There are many creative programs that focus on the Latina/o community, and I think that the long-term benefits for the community and society overall will be tremendous.

Students in the program work on substantive projects that have directly benefited the community. In each cohort some of the CBI graduates have chosen to work in southwest Detroit in order to continue contributing to the neighborhoods." In 2003, the Department of Housing and Urban Development funded the SSW, the U-M Dearborn Campus and Madonna University to develop a community outreach partnership center (COPC) in southwest Detroit. This center will operate for three years to bring together resources from each campus to work on issues of community concern. CBI students working with community-facilitated COPC committees will link community and neighborhood resources. In its first year, students working with the COPC center have improved information technology access, worked with block clubs and addressed immigration issues in this predominantly Latina/o neighborhood.

Graduates Impacting the Community

There are numerous examples of SSW graduates who've impacted the Latino/a community in their professional lives, in ways ranging from teaching the next generation of social workers to encouraging young people to pursue their education. Ozzie Rivera ('87), director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and social work field practicum coordinator at Madonna Uni versity in Livonia, has participated in an innovative program to help Latina/o women earn their bachelor's degrees in social work at Madonna. "It started as a collaborative program between the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Madonna University; the key partners, now, are Madonna University and the Women's Cultural Collaborative - we just celebrated five years of the program in April. At this point, our primary effort has been providing academic support and cultural services to a group of non- traditional aged Latinas and African American women in southwest Detroit, a byproduct of which is work with other ages and ethnic groups.

"The women enter a part-time bachelors program, with all necessary coursework offered in southwest Detroit (except for the practicum, which is agency-based). The first cohort will graduate next spring." 

"It's this kind of innovative strategy that impacts the Hispanic community most obviously," says Ortega. 'The combination of commitment to the community and an understanding of what higher education can do for people is imperative. There are many creative programs that focus on the Latina/o community, and I think that the long-term benefits for the community and society overall will be tremendous." 

-Terri D. Torkko is the editor of Ongoing, and gratefully acknowledges the assistance of forge Delva, Lorraine Gutierrez and Robert Ortega with this article.

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