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OHIO social work students ‘break barriers’

This March’s Social Work Month theme is “Social Work Breaks Barriers,” highlighting how social workers enrich society by empowering people to overcome hurdles that prevent them from living life to the fullest. However, social work students at Ohio University live that credo every day by furthering the legacy of the sometimes-radical nature of social work by breaking barriers and making a profound impact in the greater Athens community.

The annual Social Work Month campaign in March is a time to inform the public, policymakers and legislators about how social workers continue to break barriers in an array of sectors, such as hospitals, mental health centers, schools, community centers, social service agencies, and federal, state, and local governments.

“I originally chose social work because I wanted to make a direct impact on folks while working with them individually," said Jade Dutiel, a senior social work student. “However, as I grew in my social work journey, I realized that I have a passion for making impacts at the macro and mezzo levels in policy and community.”

Dutiel works in OHIO’s Dean of Students’ Basic Needs Program. Through the program, Dutiel has found meaning in connecting college students with the resources they need through local community organizations like Cat’s Cupboard Food Pantry.

People often become social workers because of a strong desire to help others and make society a better place. Social work is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States, increasing 9 percent faster than the average career with a projected 74,700 job openings annually over the next eight years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than 700,000 people constitute the social work force nationwide, but that number is expected to rise to almost 800,000 by 2030.

Originally a psychology major pursuing a career in counseling, Olivia Lang fell in love with social work after taking a class on the subject and decided to double major in it as well.

I quickly changed my mind from counseling to mental health and substance use. Then, I received a job working in domestic violence support. This finalized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Lang said. “I want to continue working with those in domestic violence situations.”

Lang is currently employed at The Gathering Place, a member operated peer recovery organization that serves adults with lived experience of a mental health issue and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder.

“I enjoy interacting with members and getting to know their stories, as well as being able to exercise my social work skills,” Lang said.

President of the Student Social Work Association at OHIO and social work student Camryn Smith has spent the past two-years working at My Sister’s Place, where they’ve been able to directly apply the skills learned in the Social Work program. Smith’s senior year field placement is at OHIO’s LGBT Center, allowing Smith to apply skills from their Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies certificate as well as social work.

“I really connect with the way social work views the client as a whole person and prioritizes the value of self-determination. I love the opportunity I have through social work to connect with individuals and empower them to work towards their goals,” Smith said.

The profession of social work began more than a century ago, tracing a large part of its origins to Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Star, who in 1889 opened Hull House in Chicago to provide social services to the area, which was experiencing a large immigrant population. Other social work pioneers include anti-lynching advocate and women’s rights activist Ida B. Wells and George Edmund Haynes, a social worker who was co-founder of the National Urban League.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life,” Addams famously said.

In the 1960s, past National Association of Social Workers (NAWS) President Whitney M. Young Jr., worked in collaboration with President Lyndon B. Johnson and other leaders during the turbulent Civil Rights era to break down the barrier of employment discrimination so Black people had access to better paying jobs.

Social workers have helped drive significant changes in our nation. Frances Perkins, the first female Labor Secretary — who was secretary at a pivotal time during the Great Depression — and others helped secure benefits we continue today, such as the 40-hour work week, minimum wage and Social Security.

Today social workers are still breaking barriers.

Caitlin Ryan at the Family Acceptance Project works to help families overcome cultural and faith hurdles that prevent them from embracing and supporting children who are LGBTQIA2S+. Suzin Bartley, former executive director at The Children's Trust in Massachusetts, helped strengthen families by helping them break through economic, psychological, and other barriers so they can provide better care for their children. And social workers such as Kristina Whiton-O'Brien, director of partnerships at Vot-ER, help to remove obstacles that prevent people from exercising their right to vote.

For more information about the social work profession, visit the NAWS website. For more information about our social work program at Ohio University, visit the Social Work website.

March 23, 2023
Staff reports