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Social justice university

Educating the next generation of social justice warriors
University Business, July 2017

With the Trump Administration proposing massive cuts to social programs like food vouchers, children’s health insurance, social disability for the elderly, and temporary assistance for needy families, the Nation faces catastrophic consequences for its social sustainability. As dynamic tensions are exacerbated, social justice advocacy has moved to the front of the class.

Driven by doing good and doing well, higher education has a special mission to educate the next generation of Social Justice Warriors. These Warriors will be educated, empowered, and self-motivated to advocate for equal rights, opportunities, and privileges – welcoming everyone to citizenship, colleagueship, and civic compassion.

As an early adopter of the American social justice mission, Southern Connecticut State University places a special focus on creating a community of lifelong learners through academic excellence, inclusion, and social justice – an institution led by President Joe Bertolino, a trained social worker who has a special commitment to social justice education. Earlier this year, “President Joe” was one of the first college and university presidents to urge President Trump to take a forceful stance against harassment, hate crimes, and acts of violence.

For decades, Southern Connecticut State University has educated principled social workers who promote social activism, social change, and social justice – educating these professionals through undergraduate, graduate, and now, doctoral (DSW) degree programs. 

At Southern Connecticut, the Bachelor’s degree in Social Work provides students with a substantive foundation for social work and preparation for graduate schools – a program rooted in a liberal arts foundation that cultivates state of the art learning models and contemporary delivery systems.

The University’s Master of Social Work degree provides graduate students with higher level knowledge, skills, and clinical experience to succeed as advanced clinical social workers and significantly, social work leaders in hospitals, schools, colleges, municipalities, and youth and family social service organizations.

Southern Connecticut’s Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) degree program’s initial cohort is slated to begin in the summer of 2018. As a practice-driven doctoral degree, the DSW offers further advanced clinical and leadership training. DSW graduates will enter the workforce ready to address the complex, evidence-based practice challenges in both academic and clinical settings – ready to make a difference for Connecticut families, children, and students. 

The 2011 Report of the Task Force on the DSW Degree Convened by the Social Work Leadership Forum focused on the emergence of a new practice doctorate and shared that “a resurgence of interest in an advanced practice doctoral degree in social work” is not surprising, as “social work practitioners with a master’s degree understand the implicit disadvantage to a terminal practice degree at the master’s level when working with peers from other disciplines holding doctorates.” With this in mind, Southern Connecticut will take its place as the 11th institution in the Nation to offer the DSW degree, joining the ranks of New York University, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California. It is noteworthy that the Southern Connecticut DSW program will be the only one offered in New England; designed for nontraditional working students; provides a promotion ladder for social workers; and meets the emergent demands of family, children, and human service agencies.

Southern Connecticut’s social work students and faculty – along with other members of the University Community – are immersed in social justice through special events like the 2016 Social Justice Week. During that week, campus-wide events included a conversation exploring social justice, an experiential journey with Dr. Mykee Fowlin, a performance by Step Afrika!, and a Social Justice Retreat to explore topics of diversity and social justice within the context of the larger University Community. As one student put it, President Joe is “very committed to social justice. It’s one thing to talk about it, but he puts himself out there, helping with planning and going to events.”

President Joe put it nicely this way: “I want the people in this city, state, and beyond to know Southern as the university dedicated to social justice.” Early in his presidency, President Joe “stressed that [his] administration would be committed to social justice, not just in word, but in action and in deed,” where “together we make every effort to treat each other with dignity, respect, civility, kindness and compassion.”

—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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