Lessons from Campaign School: Why Social Workers are Ideal Politicians

UConn flight
From left, Chelsea Porter, Miranda Williams and Evelyn Sullivan on the flight to Connecticut.

If you’ve read any of Dr. Michael Forster’s blog posts, you know that he regularly encourages social workers to get informed and involved when it comes to public policy –  policy that often seems antithetical to the profession’s standards and views.

The best way to get involved is to help shape that policy as an elected official or someone much more integrated into the world of politics as part of a political campaign, lobbyist and the like.

Recently, four Southern Miss social work students immersed themselves in a crash course on social works and politics at the University of Connecticut’s Campaign School, an annual initiative of the UConn School of Social Work and its Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work.

You can read a full accounting of their experiences and thoughts on the Southern Miss Now website, but here are some additional outtakes – their experiences in Connecticut and opinions on politics  – that didn’t make that story:

Brian Beck, BSW

  • On Mississippi politics: “All those people in Mississippi who voted with the Republican Party did so because their parents and grandparents did. But they don’t know the majority of the population, who are below middle class, and don’t care about them. They need someone who can educate them. A social worker needs to be somewhere in the Legislature.”
  • On Mississippi stereotypes: “We need to have a presence there (Connecticut). They  need to have an idea that Mississippi is not a bunch of barefoot kids in dirty clothes without running water who swim in the ‘crick’ all day. The stereotype still exists, and we have the potential to change that.”
  • On the Mississippi criminal justice system, which has a disproportionate rate of incarceration for African-Americans: “The state of Mississippi does not allow people who are institutionalized to vote. If you connect the dots, they systematically began to oppress African-Americans and take away the right to vote again; instead of it being the law, people are institutionalized, and their rights are taken away. It’s like they have this idea of how to maintain a conservative state by locking up those who have the potential to change things.”

Chelsea Porter, BSW

  • On the importance of voting: “(The speaker) said if you’re unhappy about your state, ask people if they vote. It’s as simple as that. A lot don’t vote because they never had anyone talk to them about it. You can bring awareness to the importance of voting in local elections. We don’t think about asking other people if they vote, who they voted for, or if they’re happy about who’s in office. It changed my perspective on things like that. “
  • On running for office: “It gave me confidence in myself to consider running for office. I’ve always wanted to. Thinking that just being a social work major, it wouldn’t be a possibility, but (the speaker) made it very clear, that is exactly who is qualified to do it. I am qualified and should do it. It definitely instilled a lot of passion I already have, and boosted my confidence in the passion I had to things like that.”
  • On the reaction to the Mississippi group in Connecticut: “I think it was a bit of a shock to see people from this state – which has the reputation we do – that are so progressive. Because not many people think that when they think of us. It was nice to be able to help some.”

Evelyn Sullivan, MSW

  • On being among other social workers/social work students in Connecticut: “One of the things most exciting to me was having everyone else around us as excited as we were. They were so welcoming and wanted to know our perspective, how things are in the South. They asked questions but didn’t make assumptions. They wanted to know what is really going on from our perspective.”
  • On enjoying the macro-social work emphasis in Connecticut: “Just being in an area where so many other social workers have an interest in politics and policy, just the macro-social work. I think our school is focused more on micro, and I know that side. A lot of people in cohort want to do micro-social work. Since I’ve been in the program, I’ve wanted to be more macro and advocate on a larger scale.”

Miranda Williams, BSW

  • On emphasizing the positive when deciding whether to run for office: “(The speaker) really illustrated the fact that we come up with things in our head to keep us from getting into the realm of politics, whether it’s raising money or your past or feeling like you can’t do it because of your career as a social worker. It really broke down the barriers a lot of us have for running.”
  • On the importance of voting and engaging in the political process: “We can empower clients in a different way by telling them to vote. (The speaker) used a statistic that is so important to me about people, that it takes seven times for a person to be told to vote to want to do it. You have to ask people to run and ask them to vote; if you don’t, they won’t do it, because they don’t realize how much it truly impacts them. What we know is that legislators listen to people who vote. With social workers’ value of empowerment, we have to tell people that we have to get involved. We have to be nonpartisan, but in order to be heard, we have to say something.”


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