Alumnae Bulletin May 2010

Carrying Social Justice Forward

This year, the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research celebrates its 95th year of carrying social justice forward! The GSSWSR’s mission is built upon four pillars: leadership, community, radical roots and tradition/innovation. Featured here are alumnae/i who exemplify these pillars: Rosemary Barbera, M.S.S. ’96, Ph.D. ’03, whose commitment to radical social work finds its heart in the shantytowns of Chile; and Patrick T. McCarthy, Ph.D. ’81, whose career-long leadership in social justice launched his appointment to the presidency of the Anne E. Casey Foundation. (Read about pillars of community and tradition/innovation in the August issue.)

‘The Work of Ants’

When her father had a pool installed in the family’s backyard, fifth-grader Rosemary Barbera (M.S.S. ’96, Ph.D. ’03) asked why the kids in Fishtown near her father’s garage didn’t have pools in their backyards. With no reasonable response forthcoming, she asked to bring the children to her pool. “I wanted to bring them,” she says, “but it was two buses and an El ride away.” Thus began Barbera’s passion for social justice. In 1987, after graduating with a master’s degree in religion—with emphases on pastoral and liberation theology—Barbera moved to Chile, where she became a community organizer and human rights activist in La Pincoya in the northern section of Santiago. Its high unemployment and underemployment, tenuous living conditions, poor schools, rampant illness caused by poor nutrition and a damaged environment, and insufficient assistance for those who have survived decades of free market economic exploitation make La Pincoya a typical shantytown. Barbera remains committed to the residents of La Pincoya, and continues her work there today.

At the GSSWSR, Barbera was encouraged to weave her activist experience into her academic work. “I had a phenomenal experience in the grad school,” she says. “I felt encouraged to integrate my life experiences and reflect upon them as part of my learning. I was encouraged to think about my community organizing experience in Chile with this new theoretical lens of social work.” Barbera practices what she calls “radical social work.”

“Radical social work looks at the structural violence,” she says, “the structural issues, to get at what is causing problems, not to study the situation in just an academic way, but to make change.”

At Monmouth University’s School of Social Work, where Barbera is an assistant professor, she directs the Sin Fronteras/Chile Project, which brings a cadre of students to La Pincoya or other shantytowns each year. Last year, group members spent two weeks with families in La Pincoya in order to share their pan de cada día (daily bread). They also visited the Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos (the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared) and spoke with Gabriela Zuñiga, who shared with the group the irrational hope that some family members still harbor—even after almost 30 years—of finding their family members alive.

“One of the things that I think is really important about social work that is based in human rights and social justice is that it is counter-cultural,” she says. “That is, instead of reinforcing independence, it builds community and interdependence. Instead of solely focusing on ‘personal responsibility,’ it addresses societal responsibility and the role that we all play as part of the whole. It does not look at the quick fix and instant gratification, but is in it for the long haul. Finally, it is about, as Antonio Gramsci said, the work of ants. That is, we have to work together, and it may take a long time, and the work may not be done when we leave it behind, but the work is still worthwhile.”

‘The Power of Ideas to Change the World’

When asked for words of encouragement for those entering the field of social work, Patrick T. McCarthy, Ph.D. ’81, responds with enthusiasm. “The problems have never been more daunting,” he says. “We have something close to 40 percent of all families living on less than 200 percent of the poverty line. We’ve got an aging Boomer population. We’ve got, anywhere you look, challenges in terms of preparing our young people to be successful in a global economy. Our social safety net is at best frayed. So it’s a wonderful time to be making that choice!” A telling sentiment from a man who has spent the last 30 years committed to social justice. McCarthy, who this year was named president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, Maryland, grew up in a socially-conscious family. But it was his work just out of college with severely disturbed people—in the dark days of mental health care—that cemented his commitment to “making things better for folks who were in tough straits,” says McCarthy.

Toward that end, McCarthy’s career trajectory began with private practice and teaching, but quickly turned toward administration and leadership, including being the director of Delaware’s juvenile corrections system. McCarthy joined the Casey Foundation in 1994. Chair of the Foundation’s board Michael L. Eskew says it was McCarthy’s “strong understanding and appreciation of best practices in children and family services; the need for reform in the major childand family-serving systems (education, child welfare, juvenile justice); and the basic dynamics of positive neighborhood change,” among others talents that made him the board’s top choice for president.

“The Casey Foundation is full of amazingly creative and entrepreneurial souls,” says McCarthy. It is the nation’s leading advocacy philanthropy for atrisk children and families, grown from a staff of 40 social workers and six grantmaking professionals in 1990 to a staff of more than 500. “The Foundation is seen as one of the most thoughtful, informed, effective, and innovative advocates for improved outcomes for disadvantaged kids,” he says. McCarthy likens the intellectual and creative stimulation at the foundation to his experience at Bryn Mawr. “Jane Kronick was my dissertation advisor, and she was the quintessential creative thinker, even though she mostly taught research and statistics,” he says. “She had enduring faith in the power of new ideas to open up the world.

“Bill Vasburgh introduced me to the dynamics of organizational change and the dynamics of bureaucracies; that bureaucracies are a living breathing thing…you can actually see its life cycle.” And McCarthy credits Phil Lichtenberg for teaching him how to teach. “It was just a wonderful time in my life, surrounded by ideas and being pushed to bring my own ideas to the great discussions of the time. Those years at GSSWSR were an awakening for me of the power of ideas to change the world.”

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