I was happy to have been able to help with the summer orientation a couple of weeks ago. Among other things, it prompted me to reflect on my first year and what I wanted to pass along to new students at the GCSW. There were many things that came to mind, like the importance of self-compassion or the many opportunities for social justice. Ultimately, I decided that one of the biggest messages I wanted to pass on was advocate for yourself. Part of our mission as social workers is advocating for change with and on behalf of others in need, and in focusing on that critical aspect of our work, I think we can sometimes forget that we must also advocate for ourselves. In fact, I think that we can most effectively advocate for others by becoming skilled at doing this for ourselves. Fortunately, the GCSW offers a supportive training ground to learn and practice these skills.
I would describe my Foundation Semester as primarily a process of recalibrating expectations, of the program and of myself. During that process, I met and corresponded with several members of the staff and faculty to express concerns, seek guidance, and provide feedback. Members of the department were notably receptive and available throughout. Sharing a concern or an area of frustration can often be met with defensiveness or justifications. However, this was not the case with the individuals I met with at the GCSW. On the whole, they were remarkably curious about my perspective and open to my thoughts, and they utilized their social worker super powers to validate my concerns. I was also grateful that they made themselves so available. Because I work full-time, I sometimes couldn’t meet during their regular office hours, so they would stay late or meet on the weekends in order to accommodate my schedule. In addition to being receptive to feedback that is offered by students, the college is consistently seeking feedback from its students and implementing its findings. This ongoing process of continual improvement and growth is one of the primary things I appreciate about the GCSW.
The self-advocacy skills I have today were hard earned through years of experience and mentorship, but no matter the current state of your skills, you can put them to good use at the GCSW. If you are an experienced self-advocate, use your skills in order to help the program continue to improve and better meet your needs. If you are strengthening your abilities, know that the GCSW is a great place to practice and that self-advocacy can happen in both large and small ways. In fact, something as simple as replying to an email from the college can produce change. I mention this example specifically because it is a “self-advocacy success” I experienced this past year. As a result of mine and others’ emails and the college’s receptivity, Career Services began holding workshops at times that accommodated the Weekend College’s schedule, giving us greater access to information and resources. This is a small victory, but it is the accumulation of these small victories that shape the GCSW in ways that make it better meet the needs of all its students and in turn result in better prepared future social workers. As with all change, it starts with you. I encourage you to use all your experiences at the GCSW as opportunities to grow and hone your self-advocacy skills. You and your future clients will be better for this work.