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Students immersed in the history – and realities – of social work in NYC
Students immersed in the history – and realities – of social work in NYCNovember 27, 2002Nicci Brownnicbrown@syr.edu
A group of Syracuse University students now have a different perspective on social work, New York City, and future career paths that may well involve both, thanks to a recent trip to the “Big Apple.” The three-day tour, which was sponsored by the School of Social Work in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, was financed by a $10,000 donation from the Alan B. & Barbara Mirken Foundation, and took in locations relevant to the evolution and present day workings of social work in New York City.
“It was a truly amazing experience,” says Jessica Nelson, a sophomore studying social work in HSHP and policy studies in The College of Arts and Sciences. “I would definitely recommend it to other students.”
The trip’s itinerary included the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the United Nations, UNICEF, the Goddard Riverside Community Center and a tour of Bellevue Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the United States. It also included a “heritage” tour of Harlem, which took in Sugar Hill, the Association of Black Social Workers and Marcus Garvey Park. “It was exciting to hear about the ‘other’ side of Harlem,” says Vanessa Asforis, a junior in social work. “”Harlem is always portrayed as a crime infested place, but the tour explained that Harlem is a part of Manhattan that is overflowing with history and unchanging beauty.”
Asforis says that for her, the journey to New York City was “very inspiring.” “I got a strong sense of direction from it,” she says. “I was able to speak to people who have been in the field (social work) for 20-plus years and had not lost the will, drive, or know-how to affect change in society.”
Diane Young, one of the organizers of the trip and director of the undergraduate social work program, says even she was surprised at how much the 13 student-participants got out of the tour. “One of the students has told me it helped her decide what she wanted to do with her social work degree,” she says. “Another, whose grandmother grew up in the New York tenements, says it helped her understand her grandmother’s perspective better. It was a wonderful way for the students to pull a lot of information together.”
Young says New York City is significant in that so many immigrants entering the United States arrived through New York City. Historically, it was also a primary battleground for human rights issues involving child labor, public health, and the many other problems inherent in big-city life.
In addition to examining historical milestones in social work, the trip also covered centers of modern-day issues, such as the United Nations and UNICEF. Nelson says she found the UN visit particularly striking. “When our tour guide told us that the land we were standing on belonged to everyone, I found it amazing,” she says. “Just the idea that there was someplace where everyone belonged and everyone had an equal share.”
The History of Social Work New York City Trip took place between Nov. 6 and 8. It was almost a year in the planning, but Young, who was joined on the tour by Professor Bill McPeak, Judy McPeak, MSW, and social work graduate student Laura Kilpatrick, says the results – and feedback – speak for themselves. She’s hoping future funding will make the trip an ongoing opportunity for social work students.