June 12, 2003
tracing a legacy of intervention and healing
Editor's note: Archival images of SCSSW students from the early decades of the school are available as digital files. Contact Marti Hobbes at (413) 585-2190 or firstname.lastname@example.org to request.
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- When Carolyn Jacobs reflects on the history of the Smith College School for Social Work (SCSSW), one theme remains constant: the profound effect of trauma on people's lives.
"Finding ways to respond to people's fear and anxiety, their need for safety, is ongoing, urgent work," says Jacobs, who is dean of the SCSSW and Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor of Social Work.
"As social workers, our methods evolve, as does our understanding of the issues, but the individual in crisis remains at the heart of clinical social work."
Founded in 1918 in response to the trauma facing shell-shocked veterans of World War I, the SCSSW has expanded its curriculum over the decades to address traumatic experiences that now include school and community violence, acts of terrorism, wartime atrocities, racial and ethnic violence and cultural and geographic dislocation.
From June 27 to 29, Jacobs and her colleagues will welcome hundreds of SCSSW alumni back to campus, in conjunction with the SCSSW's 85th anniversary, to revisit the school's roots and discuss new ways in which social work can provide leadership in responding to crisis and trauma. The program features a series of lectures, workshops, social gatherings and panel discussions organized under the theme "From Shell Shock to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): The Evolutionary Context of the School for Social Work."
Two evening keynote presentations will frame major issues of the weekend.
At 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 27, Dorcas Davis Bowles, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Clark Atlanta University, will discuss "Revisiting Our Understanding of Trauma: 85 Years Later." A graduate and former administrator of the SCSSW, Bowles is a nationally recognized expert in the assessment and treatment of African-American families and children.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 28, Caitlin Ryan, director of policy studies at San Francisco State University's Institute on Sexuality, Inequality and Health, will address "Sexuality and Social Work." A graduate of the SCSSW and the founder and past president of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Foundation, Ryan will discuss the role of social work in promoting understanding of sexual culture and of sexuality as a human right.
Both lectures are free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible. They will take place in Wright Hall Auditorium.
In addition, faculty-led workshops throughout the weekend will address such topics as secondary traumatic stress in social work practitioners; the role of spirituality in responding to trauma; the trauma of medical diagnosis; and racism as a form of ongoing trauma.
The weekend's program also includes moments to honor important figures in the school's history and to plan for further growth. Over lunch on Saturday, participants will discuss strengthening the school's alumni association and plans to raise funds for student financial aid. From 3:45 to 5 p.m. Saturday, a tea in the atrium of the Brown Fine Arts Center will include -- and honor -- former deans of the school.
Jacobs notes that the anniversary celebration coincides with a period of great momentum for the school. Applications are up 7 percent, as they have been for the last three years. The school has recently come through a period of important governance changes, bringing it more closely into relationship with Smith's undergraduate college. In addition, Lilly Hall, the school's campus home, has just undergone a major renovation and systems upgrade, allowing for such new technologies as videoconferencing.
These advances, coupled with an innovative curriculum and a highly developed network of practitioners in the field, are key elements in preparing students for the new realities they will face as social workers in hospitals, schools, prisons, clinics and child and family welfare agencies. The challenges they will face include a sharp increase in school-based violence; a more ethnically diverse clinical population with unique cultural histories and beliefs; and the need for intervention not only on an individual level but with whole communities.
The SCSSW enrolls some 325 male and female students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees in social work with a concentration in clinical practice. The school is one of the oldest and most distinguished schools for clinical social work in the United States. Students in the MSW program alternate three summers of intensive, on-campus classroom instruction with two eight-month periods of extensive field work in agencies across the country.