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School of Social Work Event Honors Alumni, Explores Diversity

01/15/15

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Jan. 15, 2015

The Boston College School of Social Work community gathered last Friday to reflect on the connections between diversity and social work practice, and to honor two alumni whose accomplished careers were rooted in the education and encouragement they received at SSW. 

The annual Diversity Conference and Alumni Awards Event, held in McGuinn Auditorium, featured a conference, “Race and Justice,” that included a keynote speech by John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Jackson, who served on President Obama’s Education Policy Transition Work Group, has held leadership positions in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served under President Clinton as a senior policy advisory in the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Following an audience Q&A session, a panel of SSW Associate Professor Paul Kline, Donahue and DiFelice Professor Ruth McRoy and Crime and Justice Institute Vice President and Executive Director Christine Cole discussed issues and points raised by Jackson’s talk.

Earlier, SSW Dean Alberto Godenzi offered a welcome to the event, which he said provided an opportunity for the school to come together “as a community and a family” and “to speak to current events that are dear to our heart and mission.”

Following Godenzi, the school formally presented its Distinguished Alumni Awards to James A. Martin MSW ’70, a professor of social work and social research at Bryn Mawr College with more than 40 years of social work practice, and Colleen Fitzgerald MSW ’11, who since earning her degree has aided humanitarian and social work training initiatives in volatile areas of the Middle East. 

Fitzgerald, whose mother Kathleen accepted the award on her behalf, is serving with the International Rescue Committee’s Syrian refugee relief effort in Lebanon, where she is leading a national program to train social services professionals to deal with child abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

In a pre-recorded video that was screened in the auditorium, Fitzgerald expressed her appreciation to SSW for enabling her “to meet challenges around me,” and to “seek strengths rather than deficits” in interacting with those in need. She also cited SSW’s global focus as instrumental in pointing her to “my calling.”

Although situations such as those in Syria and Libya – where Fitzgerald also has worked – may seem overwhelming, “we have a duty to address these realities,” she said, “and work for a stronger social work advocacy at the global level.” [Read a 2012 Chronicle interview with Fitzgerald at http://bit.ly/1Dt7Es4]

Martin spoke about the importance of relationships that nurture and sustain one’s personal and professional development, and expressed gratitude to the many people – including those he met at SSW – who had influenced his life. A retired colonel in the US Army, Martin singled out Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and veterans like Robert Dole, Max Cleland and Daniel Inouye who later went into public service, as individuals from whom he had drawn inspiration and direction.

Among the lessons learned from these and other mentors, Martin said, were “not to be timid, because there are important things you can contribute” and to “do the hard thing – recognize and overcome challenges instead of looking the other way.”