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Wanted: Social Justice, A guide to social justice work at the UGA School of Social Work

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Your Learning is Just Beginning, Says Graduation Speaker Swann MSW '94


Contact: Emily Williams

Posted June 1, 2011

Listen to the podcast | View a slideshow or see photos from the day on our Facebook page

Social workers are needed more than ever to provide professional services to those in need. But shrinking budgets and program cuts make it difficult to reach the most vulnerable members of society. Social workers will face many obstacles in making a positive difference in the lives of those they serve, but they are equipped to take on the challenge, said graduation speaker Stephanie K. Swann, Ph.D. Swann a '94 graduate of the MSW program and part-time instructor urged graduates to use the tools in their tool box to make a difference in the lives of those they serve and to keep adding tools throughout their careers.

"As all of you know, the United States of America remains one of the wealthiest nations in our world and yet we continue to struggle to provide the bare necessities for many of our citizens," Swann said.

Swann offered several examples of how social workers are needed in Georgia by reading headlines pulled from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution related to child abuse, post-traumatic stress after a tornado, Georgia's new mental health court system, violence against a gay high school student, and senior citizens in need of prescription drugs.

"Georgia and our country definitely need you," she said. "It's not the psychologists; it's not the psychiatrists who are on the front lines. It's you the social workers of our state. We have so much to do," she said.

Social workers have the training and expertise to understand behavior and human development in a socio-cultural context and can understand the consequences of oppression and discrimination on a person's sense of self on individual and collective behavior and on community vitality, Swann pointed out.

"As social workers, you have responsibility to challenge issues of social injustice, to advocate for clients and to effect change in systems that are often resistant to your efforts. This is no small task," she said. "You have agreed to embark on a career that can be rewarding, frustrating, satisfying, discouraging, stressful and most of all deeply challenging."

She challenged the class of 2011 to question whether or not they are curious enough to be social workers each day and to be open to their client's world because clients can be the best teachers in life.

"Curiosity is so important in your self-care and in the care you will give your clients," she said. "When you believe you have all the answers and the person with whom you are meeting is just another person wanting something from you, it is time to stop, take a deep breath and ask the question, 'Am I curious enough to be a good social worker today?'"

Swann also encouraged graduates to seek out new ideas, challenge old ideas, read new books and articles and attend conferences. "Keep expanding your knowledge base. You will never know it all, but you really can keep searching and you and your clients will benefit and reap the rewards. So in many ways, your learning is just beginning," she said.

She concluded her talk with poem often read in Synagogues during the Jewish New Year, "Birth is a beginning and death a destination and life is a journey from ignorance to knowing, from foolishness to discretion and then perhaps to wisdom."

Swann divides her time in her busy private practice in Atlanta, where she works with adolescents, adults, couples and individuals, teaching at UGA, and providing clinical consultation to CHRIS Kids, Inc., which serves youth from the juvenile justice system, all while supervising graduate level social work interns and master's level social workers.

Swann has participated on the executive board of the Georgia Society of Clinical Social Work, including as president. She serves on the national advisory network of the Child Welfare League of America to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth and adults involved with the child welfare system. Additionally she was a founding member of a residential living program for gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents for CHRIS Homes. She also founded YouthPride, Incorporated, a social service organization serving the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth ages 13-24.

Swann has written and presented extensively in the area of gay and lesbian identity development with a focus on adolescent and young adult hood.