Spring 2023 InDepth

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Each year Smith SSW students intern in the Smith College Counseling Center working alongside the many alums who are full time Smith College counselors. This project, completed before the pandemic, encouraged students to share their therapeutic growth anonymously.

InDepth is published by the Smith College School for Social Work. Its goal is to connect our School community, celebrate recent accomplishments and capture the research and scholarship at the School for Social Work.


Laura Noel

Simone Stemper


Lilly Pereira

Maureen Scanlon

Murre Creative


Dawn Faucher

Kira Goldenberg

Katie Potocnik Medina

Tynan Power

Faye S. Wolfe

Megan Rubiner Zinn


Shana Sureck

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR AND ALUMNI UPDATES CAN BE SENT TO: InDepth Managing Editor Smith College School for Social Work

Lilly Hall Northampton, MA 01063 413-585-7950 indepth@smith.edu



Labor balls or birth balls are a common therapeutic tool during labor and delivery. They can help alleviate the pain of contractions and keep laboring parents upright and active during delivery. Read more about social work’s role in labor, delivery and postpartum care in our “Great Expectations” feature story.


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FEATURES 10 Shifting the Center Intersectional explorations of the everyday lived experiences of BIPOC parents and families 16 Great Expectations Bringing a social work lens to the perinatal experience 22 Forced Migration Supporting the mental health of migrants, refugees and immigrants DEPARTMENTS 02 From the Dean A note from Marianne Yoshioka 03 SSWorks School News + Updates 29 Alumni News Alumni Desk Alumni Lives Alumni Profile 36 Post Script An End Note ON THE COVER Bao Chau Van, M.S.W. ’09, and her son, Duke, pray at their temple during the Lunar New Year celebration.

Connecting with Joy

Our work at the School continues to be vibrant and exciting as we focus on deepening our connections and relationships with our alumni, students and faculty. As we grow in our understanding and implementation of our fve Core Principles, we understand that caring for our community is foundational and essential to creating a School culture of compassion and accountability. There continues to be much work around this and I am excited to share that there are some upcoming events that are specifcally for alumni. I hope these opportunities will help us strengthen our ties and demonstrate our regard for your work and knowledge.

We are excited that we are returning to our in-person conference, Deepening Clinical Practice: Decentering Whiteness and Celebrating Intersectionality, which will be held on June 23, 2023. I hope you can join us. This is a chance to sharpen skills, broaden perspectives and also to reunite with our friends and colleagues. The conference is important to us for several reasons but most of all it allows us to highlight what we do best: clinical social work education through the lens of our Core Principles.

We are delighted that Dr. Autumn Asher BlackDeer will deliver the keynote address. Dr. BlackDeer is an important scholar, amplifying Indigenous voices and challenging coloniality within social work education. Professor Loretta Ross will deliver a plenary address at the conference. Professor Ross, who recently was awarded a MacArthur Genius Award, has been inspirational and generous with

SSW, advising us on the development of our classroom-based accountability process that we will implement starting this summer. I am grateful to our Director of Professional Education Mary Curtin, M.S.W. ’00, for her vision and hard work to create this annual clinical conference.

This conference is also a chance for us to create a regular alumni gathering on campus and SSW Director of Alumni Engagement Katie Potocnik Medina is planning opportunities for alumni to gather and reconnect with one another during the conference.

Katie has also created a partnership with Associate Dean Megan Harding to host curricular brunches for alumni. We held them in Washington D.C. and San Francisco earlier this year and will be hosting another in New York City this spring. We want to hear about your experience with the M.S.W. curriculum: what has been most useful and where have you identifed gaps as you practice? We are excited to use your feedback to continue to revise and strengthen our curriculum while retaining a strong focus on relational theory. Our plan is to ofer these events every year, moving to diferent parts of the country to have a chance to hear from as many of you as possible. We hope you will come—we have great food and always have great discussions. There is so much to tell you about the amazing work of our School, our faculty and students. We’ll have more chances to communicate with you as we launch our beautiful new website later this spring. Thank you for being a wonderful community. ◆

We are excited to use your feedback to continue to revise and strengthen our curriculum while retaining a strong focus on relational theory.


News from Lilly Hall Two SSW students embrace during opening weekend in 2022.

Celebrating Intersectionality

Professional Ed conference returns with eyes on revolutionizing the field

This summer, the Deepening Clinical Practice Conference returns to the Smith College campus on June 23, 2023. SSW Professional Education’s frst conference since 2019, it will build on the conversation of how social workers can revolutionize the feld through liberatory practices, think critically about their identities in the context of coloniality and work to dismantle systems of white supremacy within the profession.

In the spirit of promoting knowledge and skills, fostering respect for multiple worldviews and encouraging

clinicians to practice with cultural humility, this year’s conference title is Decentering Whiteness and Celebrating Intersectionality.

“At this critical juncture in the U.S., people who have been historically and systematically excluded continue to experience increasingly high rates of oppression and violence. In this context as social workers, considering one’s multiple identities is essential to addressing the impacts of white supremacy within social work practice and agencies,” said Katya Cerar, Ph.D. ’13, LICSW, director of feld education.

“Smith, as a leader in clinical thinking, has its own obligation to lead the charge, and critically look at issues related to white-centeredness…and the impact on the clients that we work with.”

A foundational part of this work is being clinically-responsive, says Katie Potocnik Medina, M.S.W., LCSW, director of alumni engagement. “Being clinically-responsive as we think about our Principle 3, centering BIPOC and Indigenous communities, considering diferent intersectionalities and celebrating them [is important].”

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This principle was central in fnding the keynote speaker, Dr. Autumn Asher BlackDeer. BlackDeer is a queer decolonial scholar-activist from the Southern Cheyenne Nation and assistant professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Her scholarship illuminates the impact of structural violence on American Indian and Alaska Native communities. She is a racial equity scholar who emphasizes Indigenous tribal sovereignty and is deeply committed to furthering decolonial and abolitionist work. Her keynote will be a highlight of the conference.

“The conference is unique in that it’s for alums, professional education students and for those who supervise SSW’s students in their internships,” said Mary Curtin, M.S.W. ’00, director of professional education. “SSW is continuing to make progress in terms of how we actualize our Core Principles, and one of those is to have an accountability process, which Professor Loretta Ross is helping us with. We’re excited that she will be the plenary speaker, because her speech will be directly related to what our students will be learning and practicing in class, and the people supervising them at their internships will also be aware of that process.”

Ross is a professor at Smith College in the program for the study of women and gender where she teaches courses on white supremacy, human rights and calling in callout culture. With a social justice activism career spanning over 50 years, including co-creating the theory of reproductive justice, Ross is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellow Class of 2022 for her work as an advocate of reproductive justice and human rights.

Other events are being developed around the conference including opportunities for current M.S.W. students to network with alums who want to help students get into careers or mentorship.

Join the conversation on June 23 to explore how to identify and resist the harmful efects of white supremacy, colonialism and systems of oppression and how to recognize when these systems are unintentionally replicated or perpetuated in clinical work and agencies. ◆


Outreach to alums offers meaningful feedback

In collaboration with the Ofce of Alumni Engagement and with support from Dean Yoshioka, Associate Dean of Academic Afairs (ADAA) Megan Harding is traveling to three cities to pilot an Alumni Curriculum Workshop.

Said Harding, “who better than our alums—who work with clients every day—to identify the areas in our curriculum that best prepare our graduates for clinical practice?”

The objectives of the pilot workshops were to honor and recognize the unique expertise and wisdom of our practicing alums; to solicit specifc feedback for the Curriculum Committee; to provide a curricular update and to build community among alums and between our alums and the ADAA.

“I invited alums to share an urgent clinical trend they see in social work right now, a clinical skill or practice that they use often yet needed to learn after graduating from SSW and the Smith class that has most informed their practice,” said Harding.

After listening to a brief overview on the evolution of the M.S.W. curriculum, the current required courses, major assignments and upcoming elective oferings across each sequence—alums identifed both gaps and areas of alignment between the current curricular content and what they are seeing. The workshops ended with alums providing essential curricular feedback rooted in what they are seeing in their own clinical practices.

Workshops have happened in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. The fnal workshop is scheduled for NYC on May 7, 2023.

“Our alums are uniquely positioned to ofer very meaningful feedback—not only on current clinical trends—but also how their SSW education prepared them for challenges and opportunities they experience every day.” said Harding. “These workshops were a great way to meet some of our brilliant alums while producing really key feedback for our curriculum committee.”

The M.S.W. curriculum is in the beginning stages of a three year curricular transformation, where each required course will be signifcantly updated to better refect the current trends and realities in social work. The curricular workshops serve as an important feedback loop to ensure accountability to the profession.

“The workshops ended with alums providing essential curricular feedback rooted in what they are seeing in their own clinical practices.”

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Megan Harding and Laura Noel
Considering one‘s multiple identities is essential to addressing the impacts of white supremacy within social work practice and agencies.
JOIN US ON CAMPUS 06 | 23 | 2023
Dr. Autumn Asher BlackDeer, Keynote speaker

Action and Advocacy Afoot

Structural oppression as a case study for racial disparities

When the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) released data last year showing that there are marked racial disparities in post-M.S.W. exam pass rates, the news was all the more depressing for being utterly predictable.

“If you wanted to teach something about structural oppression, this would be a good case study,” said Marianne Yoshioka, M.S.W., MBA, Ph.D, LCSW, dean and Elizabeth Marting Treuhaft Professor.

The disparities in who passes the exam the frst time and who does not—which extended beyond racebased discrepancies to include older test-takers, as well as people for whom English is a second language— have injected urgency into longstanding debates about whether post-master’s testing is an accurate way to gauge whether someone has clinical competence.

“One might feel like if you graduate from an accredited program, should that not be sufcient to be able to

get a license?” Yoshioka said. SSW graduates overwhelmingly pass the master’s-level licensing exam at rates that exceed both Massachusetts and national percentages. But true to the institution’s deep focus on racial justice and equity both within and outside the profession, Yoshioka is teaming up with fellow deans, both in-state and nationally, to work toward an ultimate goal of sunsetting the test.

In other words, she said, “there is action and advocacy afoot.” This action is taking place both at the state level, where licensure is granted and regulated, and at the national level with the ASWB, which is a consortium of state licensing boards.

In Massachusetts, the deans and

directors of the state’s social work programs have agreed, along with Massachusetts hospital social work directors, to support the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in fling the SUPER Act: an act relative to Social work Uplifting Practice and Exam Removal to be considered in the state’s 2023 legislative session.

If passed, the act would remove the Massachusetts master’s level exam requirement in three years, allow LICSWs to earn continuing education credits for supervising earlier-career social workers, and ensure that at least half of feld placement stipends go to students of color.

Yoshioka is also working with Dean Gautam Yadama at Boston



College’s School of Social Work, to convene the deans and directors of Massachusetts social work programs to consider shorter-term remedies for the time period between when—they hope—state lawmakers vote to decommission the exam, and when it actually takes efect.

“We don’t want to go of and do our own thing as a School,” Yoshioka said. “It’s important that we work with the other schools in the state to mitigate the problems with the exam for all social work students.”

The deans and directors also want to ensure that the testing requirement is not replaced with onerous academic requirements that would be a hardship for lesser-resourced programs to enact. And at the end of any state process, it’s still unclear how exam reform will shape up nationally, and how difering state requirements could impact long-standing eforts toward interstate licensure.

“I feel hopeful that things are going to change,” Yoshioka said, but it’s essential that they “change in ways that are actually helpful, that create more justice rather than just making something look diferent, but it’s still the same problem.”


Smith College School for Social Work

(SSW) is pleased to announce that Prentis Hemphill, writer and cartographer of emotions, embodiment facilitator, political organizer and therapist, will serve as the 2023 Lydia Rapaport Visiting Scholar presenting during SSW’s Juneteenth programming. In addition to working with students, faculty and staf, Hemphill will deliver a lecture to the wider SSW community on Saturday, June 17, 2023 at 4 p.m. Registration is required.

Hemphill is the founder and director of The Embodiment Institute and The Black Embodiment Initiative, and the host of the acclaimed podcast, Finding Our Way. For the last ten years, Hemphill has practiced and taught somatics in social movement organizations and ofered embodied practice during moments of social unrest and organizational upheaval. They have taught embodied leadership with Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity and generative somatics. They served as the healing justice director of Black Lives Matter Global Network from 2016 to 2019. Their work and writing have appeared in the New York Times and The Hufngton Post. They are a contributor to You are Your Best Thing, edited by Tarana Burke and Brene Brown, Holding Change by adrienne maree brown and The Politics of Trauma by Staci Haines. They live in North Carolina on a small farm with their partner, two dogs and two chickens while working on an upcoming book on healing justice.

SARAH WILLIE-LEBRETON, incoming president of Smith College. She continues:

“We tend to be more aware of injustice when it crashes in upon our lives, more aware of misogyny, racism and other forms of oppression when they circumscribe our possibilities, and more aware of the fragility of democracy when its admittedly young promise brought to us through the liberation struggles of its subdominant people is so clearly threatened. But so, too, are we more aware of knowledge when we participate in its co-creation, more appreciative of empathy when we receive it, more devoted to the liberal arts when we experience the power of mutually-informing disciplines.”

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“ The promise of education is not just the creation of knowledge, but the model of how to share it for our mutual liberation and the collective good.”

Strengthening Research, Teaching and Mentorship

Recent changes to the doctoral curriculum

For the past few years, Smith College School for Social Work’s doctoral program has been phasing in an updated curriculum built around a deeper focus on research methods and mentoring while preserving its unique emphasis on clinical practice. When the new term starts this summer, all three cohorts of Ph.D. students will be participating in the revised—and revitalized—sequence of coursework.

“We wanted to be very thoughtful about how to retain the DNA of the program and yet create a forward-looking curriculum,” said Dean Marianne Yoshioka.

The program was reimagined with an eye toward making graduates more competitive in the academic marketplace, where research and teaching are often sought-after skills for tenure-track positions.

“It was a really thoughtful, intentional, inclusive process,” said Professor Ora Nakash, M.A., Ph.D., who chairs SSW’s doctoral program and led the initiative to rebuild it. “There was a lot of concern about losing some of the unique emphasis of clinical and psychodynamic theory, but now students know we strengthened that.”

To keep the clinical focus while bolstering the degree’s research, teaching and mentorship components, SSW added an extra term to the program—an extra fve weeks of study in the third and fnal summer. There is also strengthened support for students’ required research internship through

new agency collaborations and a revised comprehensive exam seminar. The Ph.D. Oversight Committee, which worked collectively throughout the process, also reimagined individual courses to weave research, clinical education and racial and social justice values more comprehensively throughout them.

“We focused on introducing research courses and research perspectives earlier on and really emphasized how clinical work and the research perspective could be integrated through the students’ placements and their interests,” said Professor Marsha Kline Pruett, M.S., M.S.L., Ph.D., ABPP, who served as associate dean of academic afairs during much of the revision.

The new Ph.D. structure even includes a new seminar to support students’ dissertation process, which they previously completed solo after fnishing their on-campus coursework. Students also take a mentored teaching course that bolsters their pedagogical skills and trains them to take on teaching opportunities upon graduation.

“Overall, there’s huge satisfaction with the new program,” Nakash said. “It’s really aligning the doctoral program with the mission of the School,” she adds, including alignment with the fve Core Principles implemented last year to center racial justice and intersectionality in all the School’s decisions and discussions.

Faculty hope that the increased research and teaching opportunities in the Ph.D. program will help graduates attain the academic and other leadership positions that will then bring SSW’s deeply clinical orientation to a broader audience of future social work students.

“The way we think and teach our practice at Smith will infuence other social workers out there as more and more of our graduates are in teaching positions and tenure track positions at other universities,” Yoshioka says.

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We wanted to be very thoughtful about how to retain the DNA of the program and yet create a forward-looking curriculum.

Tenure for SSW Key Faculty

At its meeting in February, the Smith College Board of Trustees approved tenure recommendations for School for Social Work faculty members Hannah Karpman and Peggy O’Neill efective July 1.

Professor Karpman has a strong record of scholarship and research in both behavioral health policy and services, specifcally in the areas of child welfare and LGBTQ+ youth and families. Her scholarship interests grew directly from her experiences as a social worker working in inpatient health programs for children and youth. Her observations and frustrations at the failures of the health and behavioral health systems to efectively serve marginalized youth and families motivated her to bring change to these systems. Her scholarship addresses the ways that policy shapes practice and assessment instrumentation and processes. Karpman is well known in Massachusetts for her expertise with the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths tool (CANS). This well-established assessment tool is used across the country to gather

information about needs and strengths of both a child/youth and parent/ caregiver. Karpman has led initiatives to expand attention given to socioeconomic and socio-cultural variables that place a family at greater disadvantage. She is an excellent teacher, drawing from her expertise and her passion for the interplay between policy and practice.

Professor O’Neill brings more than 25 years of clinical and administrative social work practice in health/mental health care. She has created an area of research and scholarship that is important and unique. Her attention to processes that develop critical consciousness and how these processes may be applied in clinical settings, and in interpersonal settings within education is innovative and a valuable contribution to social work. The ability to recognize how power dynamics

rooted in the larger structural environment manifest within an interaction is at the heart of what M.S.W. programs aim to teach students about social work practice. Increasingly it is understood as valuable to the educational process more generally. The Critical Conversations model explicates a method by which one’s understanding of structural power dynamics may be sharpened and most importantly drawn upon to mitigate harm caused when these dynamics operate unchecked within interactions with others. She is recognized as an outstanding educator teaching advanced clinical practice.

“I am so pleased that Professors Karpman and O’Neill have had their hard work and many contributions to the School recognized. What lies behind this news is the profound amount of thought and care that they have both put into their scholarship and teaching. It refects the unique contributions of their research, and all the ways they have served our School and community” said Dean Marianne Yoshioka. “Please join me in congratulating them!”

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From left, Hannah Karpman and Peggy O'Neill


Intersectional explorations of the everyday lived

of BIPOC parents and families


THE Brandyn-Dior McKinley’s research uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the impact of racism and other forms of oppression on the holistic wellness of Black women and Black families. >>

her infuential 1994 essay

interpersonal interactions and records voices previously silenced.

“I’m interested in an expansive and interdisciplinary approach to research that draws upon multiple knowledge sources to build out culturally-grounded frameworks that refect the fullness of Black women’s lives,” said McKinley. Informed by her own experience, Black feminist theories of mothering and clinical work with Black mothers, McKinley’s research has focused on the lived experiences and resistance practices of Black mothers whose families are navigating predominantly white and economically advantaged social spaces. A key interest is Black mothers’ relationships with their adolescent daughters and their interactions with the U.S. educational system.

Education is a fundamental part of family life and a key driver of social mobility, but there are signifcant gaps in the research when it comes to capturing the experiences of African Americans in predominantly white and economically advantaged school systems in the United States.

Closer to home, School of Social Work Professor Brandyn-Dior McKinley, M.S.W., Ph.D., and two 2022 SSW graduates, Brandy Stewart, Ph.D., and Mari-Anna Bergeron Doherty, Ph.D., are carrying on the work of shifting the center. Focused on the lived experiences of people of color and grounded in extensive reviews of the scholarly literature, their research examines assumptions about parenting through an intersectional lens. It scrutinizes how those assumptions afect policies, structures and

“There’s a long and enduring legacy of Black parents’ involvement at all levels,” McKinley said. “Attending school board meetings, advocating for school funding, monitoring teacher-student interactions— advocacy is a form of educational care.” She notes that educational care also “includes what Black mothers do at home and in community to support their children’s education. For instance, teaching their children about the intellectual achievements of Black people or preparing them to confront racially-biased teachers and peers.”

Yet for too long, defnitions of parental school involvement have been based on U.S.-centric white, dominant cultural models of middle-class motherhood; other approaches are treated as deviations

“Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing about Motherhood,” sociologist Patricia Hill Collins asked, “What themes might emerge if issues of race and class generally, and understanding racial ethnic women’s motherwork specifcally, became central to feminist theorizing about motherhood?” Collins is among the many women—think Grace Chang, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, bell hooks, Maxine Baca Zinn—who, over decades, have advocated for bringing the stories of those who have been ignored and excluded to the forefront.
>> Top: Brandy Stewart’s research focused on how Black parents in LA were involved in schooling for their children. Bottom: Mari-Anna Bergeron Doherty’s research focused on the earliest experiences of women of color who had children in the NICU.

from the norm. As McKinley explains it, “There’s a checklist approach to school involvement, where certain activities ‘count’ more than others… PTA? No. Midday meetings? No. Chaperoning feld trips, no. That’s all that matters. There’s no empathy or curiosity about why. And no recognition of the systems that created both the expectation and disparity. And there’s no desire to interrogate whether those are even useful metrics.”

Challenges in Schooling

One of the aims of Brandy Stewart’s doctoral research was to reveal what African American parents were doing. Her qualitative study documented how 20 parents of public high school students in Los Angeles County saw their roles and responsibilities in regard to their children’s schooling and how race, class, culture and personal histories afected their participation. “I was curious about how these people would describe their own childhood, what stood out and infuenced their parenting, their experiences and interactions with school staf,” she said.

Los Angeles County’s public school choice policies allow parents to send their children to schools either in or outside their neighborhoods. Stewart’s interviewees approached school choice very intentionally. They looked for academic rigor, AP courses, and a range of extracurricular programs. They went out of their way to protect their children from cliques, bullying and drugs. More than 80% were middle to upper-middle class, and most sent their children to schools outside their communities. The rest chose public charter schools, such as one geared towards college prep.

There were benefts for their kids, but also costs and trade-ofs. “It’s a commitment,” Stewart said. “It might mean a commute of one to two hours a day.” Some children struggled to make friends in schools with a 90% white student body. “Managing microaggressions was an issue,” Stewart said, “a teacher questioning if a child could keep up in an honors program,

for instance.” Responding to these situations, parents reafrmed their children’s values, culture, abilities and strengths. Speaking from experience, one mother told her daughter, “You have to work twice as hard. So as soon as you step in that door, you got to put that face on, whether you’re ready or not.”

Some parents reported that, crossing school thresholds, they too felt unsure they belonged and felt the need to code-switch, to assume a persona.

“When I walk into the room …I’m always trying… to present in a way where I’m not looked down upon,” said one mother. Another asked, “Why should I have to feel like, ‘Oh, if I missed this phone call or if I missed this, you’re all going to think I don’t care,’ when it could have been…I had a work call, a work emergency.”

From her research, McKinley knows these are common frustrations: Black moms are simply not extended the same level of respect. “Black mothers’ involvement, and in particular educational advocacy, is often misinterpreted as combative or confrontational; it’s seen as harmful, not supportive. But if we remain silent or do not show up for a meeting or event during the school day, we are stereotyped as uncaring. This plays into anti-Black logics that devalue and disregard the carework knowledge and resistance practices of Black mothers. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Misconceptions in the NICU

Some women of color come up against misconceptions from their earliest moments as mothers, as Mari-Anna Bergeron Doherty’s doctoral research attests. A biracial mother herself, she investigated the experiences of women of color whose babies had been in a NICU. Among the poignant stories she included are those of two Chinese women. One recalled trying to abide by zuo yue zi or “sitting the month,” when a new mother rests at home: “I wasn’t even

supposed to leave the house…I got the impression that they [nurses] thought maybe I was detaching myself…that I was neglecting her.” A nurse asked the other if she was taking the “correct” baby home because the baby had blue eyes.

Before enrolling in SSW, Bergeron Doherty had been a clinical social worker in a hospital, providing therapy to children and families. “Mothers would talk about their babies’ time in the NICU, tell me stories, show me the photo album. Years out, they still hadn’t processed the experiences. For many it had been very traumatic, and it sometimes afected their relationships with their children and led to problems of attachment.”

She wanted to get at what defnitions of mothering were operating in NICUs and how those defnitions afected mothers’ interactions with hospital staf. Like Stewart and McKinley, when Bergeron Doherty dug into the literature on her

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subject, she found it came up short in capturing the experiences of women of color.

Her qualitative study focused on a diverse group of 17 self-identifed women of color, ages 22 to 43, from across the United States. The recollections of these Black, Hispanic, Asian and Asian American women were also diverse, with participants reporting both empowering and disempowering moments. Yet, she wrote, “Almost all participants revealed that they at least questioned whether their race, ethnicity or cultural identity had an infuence on their experience.”

At a time of extreme vulnerability, when they might be sufering from postpartum health problems as well as the emotional trauma of having a fragile newborn, these mothers also worried that they and their babies were being treated diferently because of their identity. Was a male doctor talking down to her, not sharing essential information and assuming he would make the decisions because she was Hispanic, female, less educated— or all three? One woman Bergeron Doherty interviewed remembered wanting to say, “Don’t sugarcoat anything with me because I’m her mom.”

Similarly, Stewart’s interviewees weren’t always sure if race infuenced their interactions with schools. Still, wrote Stewart, “fndings indicated that all these participants and their children had been exposed to some racial inequality.”

For Black parents, McKinley has found that while greater means may translate into access to spaces and opportunities from which Black people had previously been excluded: “There’s an idea that class insulates, that it is an escape from the spatial and psychic efects of anti-Blackness, but it’s more complicated than that. When middle-class and uppermiddle-class Black families move to predominantly white and economically advantaged communities, we must ask: What do they leave behind? And what are they arriving to?” McKinley said. “What kind of reception do they get? Are they able to create a culturally afrming community? Will they fnd schools that support their children’s social, cultural, spiritual and academic wellness?”

McKinley says, “It’s so important to make visible the work of African American parents, to change the narratives that erase the labor of Black mothers and ignore the fact that anti-Black racism is baked into structures and institutions, no matter how many Black kids get into Harvard.”

At the same time, she said, “It’s important not to lose sight of the ways Black parents are engaged in bringing changes to pedagogy and curriculum that hold out new possibilities. And to celebrate what Black women have done in their role as mothers, to imagine something better in a lot of diferent ways, something liberatory, joyful, freedom-generating.”

At the end of her interviews with Black mothers, McKinley was asked, “Is there anything else you’d like to share?” She recalled, “What kept coming up was a longing for the full recognition of Black people’s humanity.” Theirs is a simple yet profound plea, born of struggle, fatigue and, perhaps, hope: ‘I wish they’d see our humanity. If we could just get there, we could take a rest.” ◆

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Bringing a social work lens to the perinatal experience

The perinatal period—pregnancy, birth, early parenting—can be the most joyful of a person’s life. It can also be the most traumatic. Often it involves elements of both. For everyone who experiences pregnancy, it is a time of great vulnerability on a physical, emotional and societal level.

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“I think social work speaks to this work, more so than almost any other discipline,” asserted Ruth Paris, M.S.W. ’82, Ph.D., “I think we own this place of being able to recognize the ecological system and how we are embedded.”

Smith College School for Social Work alums JoAn Monplaisir, M.S.W. ’13, LCSW-C, Gretchen Davidson, M.S.W. ’14, LICSW, Ruth Paris and adjunct faculty member Greer Hamilton, M.S.W., are all social workers who specialize in aspects of the perinatal period. The diversity of their roles shows how many points of entry there are in supporting individuals through this complicated, multifaceted period of their lives.

A SSW adjunct faculty member since 2022, Greer Hamilton is also a fourth year doctoral student at Boston University School of Social Work. Additionally, Hamilton is co-chair of the board of directors of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund (EMA), where she oversees their hotline staf and conducts

Amongoutreach. Hamilton is also a trained doula, providing emotional and educational support to clients as they navigate the health care system, birth planning and early parenting. Hamilton started her doula training to help improve the perinatal experiences of Black women in light of the racism and increased risks they face.

SSW alum JoAn Monplaisir is also a doula. She works with clients trying to conceive, through pregnancy, during delivery and in the early weeks of parenting, as well as parents coping with pregnancy loss or going through an abortion. Her services include emotional support, education, advocacy, guidance in navigating the health care system, resource coordination, birth preparation and hands-on support. She is also a hospice social worker, serving as an end of life doula. Thanks to her training as a social worker, Monplaisir brings a trauma-informed lens and a social justice and anti-racist approach to her work. “It really helped equip me with the language and the sensitivities of how to navigate discussions with our families compassionately and ethically,” she said. Additionally, with an eye to economic justice, she runs her practice on a sliding fee scale.

Ruth Paris is an associate professor at the Boston University School of Social Work and the associate director for research of the BU Institute for Early Childhood WellBeing. Paris’ research focuses on families, particularly mothers, addressing issues of high adversity. Her current work has involved trials of BRIGHT (Building Resilience through Intervention), an attachment-based intervention for pregnant and parenting individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) and their children. BRIGHT is an enhancement to substance use treatment with the goal of helping parents remain sober and retain custody of their children. The program supports participants as they learn to regulate their emotions and to understand the connection between their emotions and behaviors as they develop a relationship with their fetus and their baby.

care providers, social workers are uniquely trained and positioned to be of service to people in the perinatal period. Who better to guide parents through this period than a social worker who has been trained to understand both the individual physical and emotional experience, but also the social, cultural and institutional systems they have to navigate?
Above: JoAn Monplaisir cradles the belly of an expectant mother. Facing page: Monplaisir ofers doula services from conception through childbirth and post-partum as well as services for hospice clients and during end-of-life care. PHOTO BY RACHEL KAYE, PEACE LOVE SHOOT

Gretchen Davidson has a private practice in Conway, New Hampshire, and works with a group practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a student at SSW, she undertook a qualitative research project on pregnancy and childbirth experiences among people with past sexual trauma. She also taught at a home birth midwifery college. Davidson has become known in her area as someone who specializes in perinatal mental health, and nearby practitioners and hospitals often refer clients to her. She sees clients with postpartum depression and anxiety, those who have had birth trauma, or those with early trauma history or attachment disruptions afecting their pregnancy, delivery or parenting.

Although each of these social workers have expertise in diferent elements of the perinatal experience, as they speak about their work, they return again and again to the same issue: perinatal care in the United States is not only broken, it often inficts new trauma.

Davidson spoke of the lack of access to good prenatal care, postpartum care and to paid leave. “There’s going to be things they encounter just in the process of receiving care that are likely to be harmful,” she added. Being in a rural area, Davidson feels acutely the lack of resources: few mental health providers, let alone providers knowledgeable about pregnancy and parenting, and few support services.

Paris experiences enormous defcits in the health care infrastructure when

SPRING 2023 / 19 /

it comes to pregnancy and parenting among those overcoming SUD, especially because of a lack of coordination of diferent spheres. “People have been turned away, left and right, from substance use treatment, because they’re pregnant, and they get turned away from pregnancy services because people don’t know how to work with somebody who has a substance use disorder,” she explained.

One of the primary issues is the lack of racial equity in perinatal health care, which was a key factor in drawing both Monplaisir and Hamilton to the work. According to the CDC, the total maternal mortality rate in the United States went from 17.4 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018 to 23.8 in 2020. Among Hispanic women, it went from 11.8 to 18.2, and among non-Hispanic Black women, it went from an already staggering 37.3 to 55.3. With those in recovery from SUD, Paris noted, the disparities are only compounded, with fewer women of color accessing treatment and fewer people of color providing treatment.

Paris, Monplaisir, Hamilton and Davidson all agree that with the end of Roe v. Wade and the sharp gutting of reproductive rights, the harmful outcomes are only going to get worse. Paris, in particular, anticipates more people with SUD being forced to carry pregnancies to term, whether they are in recovery or not, and therefore more children at emotional and physical risk.

Even in areas where reproductive rights will likely remain strong, the overturn of Roe v. Wade is already having an efect. According to Hamilton, EMA is already seeing more people coming to Boston from outside the area for abortion services and they anticipate the numbers will grow. Monplaisir has seen an uptick in clients requesting abortion support and greater feelings of anxiety and discrimination around the issue because the national rhetoric around abortion is so charged. Davidson concurred: “I think it afects all people who have uteruses—the attack on autonomy and the impact of living in a hostile environment.”

The solution to the crisis of perinatal care in this country, they all emphasized, is training far more providers, especially social workers, to better serve this population. This has been a key aspect of Paris’ advocacy. In a 2021 article in Social Work (“Locating Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at the Heart of Social Work”), she and colleagues asserted that while “social workers are central to the work of assessment and intervention with young children and their caregivers in many settings, few schools of social work ofer training in IECMH (infant and early childhood mental health) and few social workers are familiar with its core principles, scholarship and intervention approaches.”

Above: Adjunct faculty member Greer Hamilton began her work as a doula to improve the perinatal experiences of Black women. Below: Gretchen Davidson specializes in perinatal mental health. GRETCHEN DAVIDSON

On a broad level, improving prenatal and postnatal care requires that we bring a wide social lens to the process and understand that the individual experience is afected by a web of intersecting needs and pressures: societal, physical, emotional, cultural and economic. “Helping people to de-internalize their experiences is really essential for people in this vulnerable time period,” Davidson explained. “To say, ‘part of what you’re going through is not you, it’s the context you’re living in, or the way you’ve been treated.’ There’s just so much self-blame.”

Further, we need professionals working in perinatal health who understand that individual experiences during this period have extensive implications for broader society. “Even though these experiences around abortion and around pregnancy can feel really individual, there are actually great implications for communities and at the society level for not caring for people when they’re either pregnant, when they’re having an abortion, or when they decide to raise a child,” Hamilton afrmed.

The stakes for good perinatal care couldn’t be higher. The more clinicians we have who understand the impact of these intersections and the better we become at supporting parents through this time, the better outcomes we’ll have for parents, and equally importantly, for children. It’s what brings Davidson, Hamilton, Monplaisir and Paris to this work and what keeps them so passionate. “I feel motivated to create a world where people can choose when they want to have a child, how they want to have a child, and how they want to raise a child,” said Hamilton. “If we as a profession believe in social justice and human rights, we should truly consider pregnancy, birth and childrearing as part of that.” ◆

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Ruth Paris has focused on the experiences of people with substance use disorder as they navigate pregnancy and birth, with a goal of helping parents retain custody.


Supporting the mental health of migrants, refugees and





atOn SPRING 2023 / 23 /

ore than 40 million immigrants live in the United States—a population that increases by more than a million each year. Varied groups of naturalized citizens, permanent and temporary legal residents and more than 10 million undocumented people are served by social workers in roles as clinicians, case workers, school counselors, advocates, researchers and sometimes role models with their own immigration stories.

“When we think about immigraThere are tion, because of how politicized and how criminalized it has been, we automatically think of people an estimated from Central America and Mexico. We think of people of color, brown 103 million people. We mostly don’t think about immigrants who are from Europe, forcibly English-speaking, or more resourced. I always say that if you walk here, it’s displaced diferent than if you fy here,” said Silvia Sandoval, Ph.D. ’21, who was brought by their parents to the U.S. people from Guatemala when they were 12 years old. worldwide.

Diferences among immigrants— and attitudes toward them—show

—Via the UN Refugee Agency up in the language used in popular discourse. While people once spoke idealistically (and problematically) of a “melting pot” of immigrants

with a shared American identity,

today the common use of legalis-


“unaccompanied minors” recognizes distinct experiences—and reveals a less romanticized view of immigration. Even the term “immigration” itself has been called into question for glossing over harsh realities.

“A lot of people who are centering social justice or social work values say ‘forced migration’ instead of ‘immigration,’” said Johanna Creswell Báez, Ph.D. ’16, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado. “In some cases, people have been forced out of their communities and families. They have walked for two to three months. They’ve most likely experienced multiple traumas. Often, they didn’t just make a choice and get on a plane.”


Bao Chau Van, M.S.W. ’09, came to the U.S. as a child in the 1990s when her family fed Vietnam.

“It was a very difcult decision for my family to leave Vietnam,” said Van. “Due to my father’s participation in the war—protecting and defending the Republic of South Vietnam’s democracy—he was captured and spent time in a ‘re-education’ camp after the fall of Saigon. After his release, my family fought stigma and discrimination under the new communist regime.”

Van’s family was among more than a million people who made the risky choice to leave Vietnam by boat between 1975 and 1995; only 800,000 survived the journey.

Van’s sister and brother left frst. They were rescued at sea and taken to a refugee camp. Her brother was sponsored to immigrate to Australia, but her sister was sponsored by someone in the U.S.

“When you’re a refugee, you have to pick whichever country will take you—or go back, and that would mean death,” said Van. “So my brother went to Australia and my sister came here.”

The rest of Van’s family spent a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines, then followed her sister to Massachusetts. Decades later, this forced separation of their family remains a source of pain for Van.

Pictured in inset photos in this article, in order of appearance, Silvia Sandoval, Johanna Creswell Baéz, Jean Paul Gatete, Jordan Alam and tic terms like “refugee,” Cheryl Aguilar. “asylee,” “undocumented,” and

“The adjustment and adaptation to living in a new country was not easy,” said Van. “I was faced with many obstacles such as racism, oppression and challenges with assimilation. For example, I was told by a professor that I will not be able to speak English, because I am not an American.”

“I was helped by many people such as my middle school science teacher who believed that I could create change, my English tutors who didn’t judge my grammar errors, and the church group that helped our family with food, clothes and groceries. The Vietnamese Buddhist youth group helped me by instilling hope and a sense of a community far away from my true home,” said Van. “That’s why I’m in the feld I’m in, because I believe in that extra hand reaching out to be supportive and be welcoming and coaching you along. I want to give back to the community, to be available to those in need and support them.”

After graduating from Smith SSW, Van started New Path Counseling in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, with another Vietnamese immigrant, Phuong Do, M.S.W. ’03, who shared a desire to serve Vietnamese immigrants. Today, their practice has 16 diverse clinicians and serves a range of clients.

“Since the pandemic, there has been an increase in people of color seeking services,” said Van. “They report feeling comfortable with having a BIPOC clinician whom they can relate to and who can understand their background, culture, and the family dynamics and generational challenges in a person of color family.”


Sandoval, a senior mental health provider in the TransLife Program of the Black Health Portfolio at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, has been working with immigrants for over 20 years.

“I work with people who are trans, gender expansive, nonbinary and gender fuid —people who are marginalized within a marginalized community,” said Sandoval.

Many of Sandoval’s clients are or have been sex workers, who face additional dangers —and bias—on the streets, in encounters with law enforcement and even in medical settings.

It’s especially challenging for Sandoval when trans-identifed immigrant clients die on the streets.

“It’s a loss, and it’s really hard that they pass away under those circumstances, but it’s also really hard to fnd loved ones or family members—not only here but also back in their country of origin,” said Sandoval. “It makes me really angry because they had a really hard time living and that immigrant experience is still catching up with them, even after they pass.”

Sandoval sees the strength of their clients in their determination to survive and to immigrate in the hope of fnding greater safety.

“I feel honored and privileged when

somebody says to me, ‘thank you’,” said Sandoval. “Social work is hard, but it is also very rewarding.”

This motivates them as a clinician—and as an instructor who wants social workers to have the tools—and resources—to work with immigrant populations.

“To do better, we need a lot more funding to create better access to services. That includes better pay for social workers,” said Sandoval, noting that clinicians often can’t aford to live in cities with high immigrant populations. “We need better education of families and healthcare providers, funding for campaigns to decriminalize sex work and create safer streets for all and protect people—especially TGNB people who are members of BIPOC communities— from discriminatory arrests based on how they are dressed and the profession they practice.”

Sandoval would also like to see more research that focuses on immigrant populations.

“Scholarship is so important, but it’s also very difcult to recruit populations that we want to study

SPRING 2023 / 25 /

and serve,” said Sandoval. “There’s a lot of fear and, in the past, research has caused a lot of harm to marginalized populations.”


Jean Paul Gatete, M.S.W. ’21, was inspired to become a clinician through his work with the refugee resettlement and integration program at Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts. His own experience gives him insight and compassion for his clients. Gatete was born in Burundi, where his family had resided as refugees since his grandparents fed Rwanda due to the 1959 revolution. He returned to Rwanda after the 1994 Tutsi genocide, before immigrating to the United States in 2017.

“I don’t have the severe background of trauma some have experienced, but I had some challenges, as well, when I was growing up,” said Gatete. “So I understand what they’re going through.”

The reality of American racism can be one unexpected challenge for African refugees.

“When they come to the U.S., they have hopes that this is a safe place in the world,” said Gatete. “When they

Bao Chau Van poses with her husband and some of her children during the Lunar New Year celebration at their temple.
From left to right: Duke, Choo, Tu Minh, Bao Chau and Minh Tam.

get here, they experience racism and they feel disappointed…They feel like they’re not safe where they came from, and then they come here and they don’t feel safe. Families I work with have disclosed to me that they feel there’s misinformation about racism [in the U.S.], but the truth is, it’s there and it’s diferent from other parts of the world. Like in South Africa, it was really obvious, there were places that were just for white people. But in the U.S., people don’t really openly do those kinds of things. It’s just internal.”

“I try to help my clients to process that,” said Gatete. “We just have to make sure they understand what’s going on, and make sure they can navigate the system and face those challenges.”

Gatete works as part of an in-home therapy team working with youth between the ages of fve and 21.

“I feel really grateful to work with the entire family,” says Gatete. “If you’re working with a family, the mom might say they need help with something job-related, or maybe medical appointments…[or] I may be working with a child who is having adjustment challenges, like behavior challenges at school, but the in-home therapy program makes it more about the family.”


Cheryl Aguilar, D23, is a clinician, co-author of a guide to support immigrants afected by DACA, and the founding director of Hope Center for Wellness in Washington, D.C.

Recently, Aguilar has provided mental health services to families who were separated at the border under the “zero tolerance policy.”

“Parents were detained upon entering and the kids were sent to shelters,” said Aguilar. “Parents didn’t know when they were going to reunite with the kids, and kids didn’t have any information…which creates a lot of uncertainty and fear on top of the pre-existing trauma families may have from having fed dire conditions. It’s a terrifying experience to come into the country and to literally be ripped apart.

The children are at a very vulnerable developmental stage, and they don’t have the support of the person who’s supposed to protect them—they’re calling out for those loved ones who are supposed to keep them safe and protect them. The narrative that is created in their minds is ‘you’re not there, you weren’t there for me.’ There’s a rupture in the emotional attachment, the emotional connection between the parents and the children. Once these families are ready to reunify, there’s a distance that has been created. Kids are not able to connect in the same way they did with their parents, parents are not able to connect with their kids.”

“Parents report trauma responses manifesting. Parents may report, ‘my kids are no longer listening to me, they are defant.’ Those are symptoms of responses to the trauma that they have experienced,” said Aguilar. “One of the important things to do is to provide healing space for them individually, for them to be able to process that traumatic experience they had, and eventually to bring them together. That’s the group work or family work to bring them together and allow them to reconnect through therapeutic processing and trauma and attachment-informed interventions.”

“One of the approaches that I have utilized is a strength-based approach,” said Aguilar. “I think the journey, that decision to take your family or yourself somewhere else and start all over again, to me, indicates a lot of strength. Seeing people healing, achieving their goals, whether therapeutic goals or goals in life, makes this work worth it.”


As someone who immigrated from Bangladesh as an infant after being adopted by a family member in the U.S., Jordan Alam, M.S.W. ’20, doesn’t remember the process but is deeply aware of how immigration is intertwined with the history—and ongoing impacts—of colonialism. Today, Alam brings that awareness to work in a

group practice that centers QTPOC clients and social justice principles.

“I believe that many of these clients come to me due to my identities,” said Alam, who identifes as a queer, non-binary person of color and “1.5 generation” immigrant. “My clients talk about the disillusionment they felt when arriving in the U.S. and being stripped of community, while also having to battle a system that is designed to keep people out and extract their labor.”

Some people Alam sees are undocumented or have undocumented family members, but others are on work or student visas. Alam has found that even these more resourced immigrants can face daunting challenges.

“I’ve worked with multiple Ph.D. students whose immigration status hinges on continuing to work for a toxic advisor, which strips them of their ability to self-advocate,” said Alam. “They can be paid less and asked to do work that others would not do, because of the looming threat of their status. Many of those folks don’t seek out mental health resources because they may not know they’re available, or they don’t have the funds if it’s not free/low cost, or they are worried about how seeking services will afect their immigration status.”

Witnessing clients unable to access resources is frustrating, but being part of the solution makes it worthwhile.

“Despite the pains of the system and its deep mental health impact, there is something really rewarding about helping people return to ritual and build community in their newfound home,” said Alam.


Under the auspices of Clinical Scholars, a national Robert Wood Johnson Foundation leadership program for healthcare providers advancing health equity, Johanna Creswell Báez, Ph.D. ’16, worked with an interdisciplinary team to make innovative contributions in working with unaccompanied immigrant minors (UM)

SPRING 2023 / 27 /

in Houston. To improve access to resources, they created a website, Bridge UM: Bridging Borders in Houston (bbhouston. org) which provides an easy to navigate directory of services ranging from medical and mental health providers to food assistance and education services. The website also supports the CAM (Central American Migrants) Working Group, which connects providers, organizations and community members who are working on behalf of the area’s UMs. Other resources on the site include a toolkit for providers called Caring for Former Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors: A Culturally Relevant and Trauma Responsive Toolkit for Providers, co-developed by Báez, and a compelling 12-minute documentary called “Escúchame: Voices of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children.”

“These youth are so amazing. I feel honored to know them,” said Báez. “The clinical model, toolkit and the documentary all used their words and their ideas. We aren’t the experts in this; they are. As a qualitative and mixed methods researcher, it just comes naturally to center their voices and have them drive these programs.”

“This work is so exhausting and it’s really a 20-year project,” said Báez. “Working with immigration is really, really difcult and trying to get any kind of change at the policy level is a long game. So we defnitely had to form a team. It’s also interdisciplinary. There are doctors that I’m collaborating with and we’re talking with lawyers. You need to have a team.”

Next, Báez is hoping to develop a protected app for UMs.

“Many of these youth at their initial interviews talked about losing contact with each other,” said Báez. “They may start in Houston, but they go all over the country, so we envisioned an app for them to connect that would also provide some case management services.”


For social workers approaching work with immigrants for the frst time, the overwhelming advice

from experienced practitioners is to learn about the diferent immigrant groups and recognize their unique clinical needs.

“Through local immigration organizations, we can better understand the needs in that location,” said Aguilar, who is also a Robert Wood Johnson scholar. “The needs in the DC Metro area may be diferent from those near the [Mexican] border.”

Bringing humility and transparency to the work is crucial, as well.

“Ask questions,” said Van. “Sometimes I don’t know much about a certain cultural background, but I’m willing to listen and hear and understand. It helps to say that: ‘I want to listen and hear you.’”

Social workers need to remember that immigration is almost always preceded, accompanied and followed by trauma.

“I encourage folks to view immigration through the lens of trauma and grief,” said Alam. “Often we view immigration as a positive change in peoples’ lives without acknowledging

the factors that push people to leave their home countries and pull them to places where they often encounter layers of oppression created by the long shadow of colonialism. Even if one believes deeply that their survival and wellbeing are improved by leaving their home country—especially for queer communities and cis women feeing violence—there still exists that heartbreak which needs to be integrated into the conversation.”

Many who work with immigrants say the experience requires that they become advocates.

“We’ve got to be strong clinicians and we’ve also got to be strong in our macro practice,” said Báez. “Social workers need to learn about policy and advocacy, and what we can do for groups who’ve been systematically marginalized.”

“We’re not just clinical social workers. We hear stories of human suffering,” said Aguilar. “Because we’re witnesses to human sufering, we have a responsibility to mobilize whichever way we know how to create change. ◆


Alumni News

To protect the privacy of our alumni, class notes have been redacted from the online version. To receive a printed copy of InDepth please contact sswcomm@smith.edu.

Engaging Is aWin-Win

Alums invigorate and inform our work as we support yours

Over the past six months, I have had the fantastic opportunity to learn more about SSW’s programs and curricula and I have gotten to know some of the dynamic people that make this program incredible. I have learned what our extraordinary alumni are doing across the country and the world, and meeting alumni in person has given me a true sense of how fun and interesting you all are. This is part of what makes this work so worthwhile: connecting with you and hearing about the types of programs and services you want, and what engagement within our community can look like as we build stronger connections with each other.

From the alumni survey, I learned that many of you enjoy our rigorous professional education and CE oferings, and are excited for more in-person and virtual alumni events. I have also heard from many of you a desire to reconnect in diferent ways. We are so grateful for the thoughtful insight you’ve given, and are excited about the connections that have been happening.

Earlier this year, in partnership with the Associate Dean for Academic Afairs Megan Harding, I hosted a series of

M.S.W. Curriculum Workshops and Brunches in Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Megan spoke about our current M.S.W. curriculum and invited alums to identify skills, trends and needs they’d identifed in current clinical practice. The feedback was invaluable and the next workshop in New York City on May 7 will continue this conversation.

I hope to see many of you on campus this June for our alumni conference, Deepening Clinical Practice: Decentering Whiteness and Celebrating Intersectionality. We are at a critical juncture in history where as a social justice profession, we are called to examine our clinical practices and our own identities. We must work to be clinically-responsive to BIPOC and other marginalized communities, and center them as we decenter whiteness and respond radically—celebrating intersectionalities and building a healing process in conjunction with what makes Smith School for Social Work exceptional—our clinical focus.

I am excited to continue to connect with you, in person and virtually as we continue to promote a more just world serving the needs of our communities.

We are at a critical juncture in history where as a social justice profession, we are called to examine our clinical practices and our own identities.


InDepth runs obituaries that are submitted by family, friends or classmates. Please submit obituaries to indepth@smith.edu or to InDepth, Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, MA 01063.

InDepth obituaries are 100-word notices for the alumni community and are not intended to repeat all of the information contained in newspaper obituaries.

Khalilah Karim-Rushdan, M.S.W. ’99

January 18, 2022

Khalilah Karim-Rushdan graduated from Drury High School in 1969 and from Smith College School for Social Work with an M.S.W. in 1999. She devoted her life to community service, investing in creating positive mental health practices as a clinical social worker, volunteering for dog rescue networks and pouring love into her family.

Ann Louise Overbeck, M.S.S. ’57, Ph.D. ’72

January 28, 2022

Born July 19, 1933, Ann Louise Overbeck, Overbeck grew up in Evanston, IL, attended Cornell University and received her Ph.D. at Smith College SSW. Her clinical social work career led to positions at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute in San Francisco, the Community Mental Health Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania, and faculty positions at Pennsylvania State University, Western Michigan University, Smith College and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Overbeck retired in 1995 to Waynesville, North Carolina, in the Smoky Mountains where she enjoyed family and friends, community volunteer work and world travel.

Caroline Jean Downs, M.S.W. ’73

March 15, 2022

Caroline Jean Downs had a private psychotherapy practice in Chicago for many years as well as being a social and political activist. The Chicago agencies where she worked were: University of Chicago, Billings Hospital, Psychiatry Department; EAP Program, U.S. Steel and Cathedral Counseling Center. She is survived by her husband, Michael Lyczak, son Michael

Benjamin Lyczak, and sister Mary Dickerson. Downs was born into a farming family in Woodhull, IL in 1947. She inherited the farm after her parent’s deaths and successfully managed the farm business until her death.

Rivka Gruber Raffel, M.S.W. ’75

July 25, 2022

Rivka Gruber Rafel is survived by her two children, Joshua Rafel and Aliza Rafel. Classmates who knew her will remember her sense of humor, irreverence, and generous friendship as well as her wisdom, compassion and devotion to our feld. Over the years, Rafel survived many challenges, including the death of her husband Charles Rafel, with grace and resilience. May her memory be a blessing and an inspiration to all who knew her.

John Francis O’Brien, SSW adjunct faculty

September 2022

Born September 12, 1930, John Francis O’Brien worked as a social worker for the Veterans Administration in downtown Boston, Bedford and Brockton, the Judge Baker Guidance Center, the Greater Boston Family Service Association, the Cambridge Family Service Association, the Interfaith Relief Efort after the 1978 blizzard, and the Professional Counseling Center, Inc. in New Bedford. He worked well past normal retirement age! He had a long-time appointment as an adjunct professor at Smith College for whom he supervised social work students in their required placements. In the 1970s he was active in the White House Conference of Families convened by President Carter. On September 12, 2022, O’Brien celebrated his 69th wedding anniversary to his beloved wife Nard. Having met as teenagers, they stayed happily married to the very end.

SPRING 2023 / 33 / / Alumni Lives /

Answering the Call

A career-long journey advocating for progressive political causes

A degree in social work has uses far beyond clinical practice: learning how to listen to others without prejudice and to recognize when one’s own “stuf” is clouding an interaction are skills transferable to most personal or professional settings.

For Pam Wilmot, M.S.W. ’95, vice president of state operations at progressive advocacy organization Common Cause, her time at SSW helped her become an efective advocate and a leader for progressive political causes.

“I do use my training quite a bit,” said Wilmot, whose 20-plus-year career has focused on fghting for a fullyinclusive representative democracy.

“Any human interactions are about your own internal process—understanding that and watching it, and understanding when you’re being triggered,” she said. “People have all sorts of feelings, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s who they are or where your relationship will be.”

Wilmot’s passion for progressive advocacy started early, even before completing her bachelor’s degree at Brown University. Within her frst year on campus, she was working as a door-to-door fundraiser for a citizen action group and organizing a Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)—a chapter of the advocacy network started by Ralph Nader in 1970—at Brown.

She invited Nader to campus, where he was so impressed with her work that he hired her to spend the summer after her sophomore year building the team at the nascent Wisconsin Citizens Utility Board, the frst of what became a national network of consumer protection advocacy groups. She was 20 years old and in charge of hiring and supervising 20 people.

“It was very clear from the beginning that I wanted to be a social change agent, to work for policies that worked for all people as opposed to just those that were well connected or insiders who were putting their thumb on the scale,” Wilmot said.

After undergrad and law school at Northeastern, Wilmot began her frst stint at Common Cause as the Massachusetts branch’s executive director. Over the


next four years, she worked to move the needle in the state on issues like campaign fnance and ethics reform.

Then, grappling with the impacts of a chronic health issue while simultaneously serving as a main source of support for a friend with major depression, she decided to transition from macro to more direct service work. She matriculated at SSW in 1993. During her time in the program, she completed feld placements in a locked psychiatric facility and an outpatient mental health clinic.

Post-graduation with two young children, she took a part time role in community mental health. But her old job at Common Cause soon beckoned anew.

“I missed the public policy, driving an agenda, making things happen, being more of the doer, and so when they asked me to come back, I did,” she said. This time, though, she took her Smith clinical education with her, training that she credits with making her a better advocate and a better leader.

“Social work gave me some really important skills,” Wilmot said.

“You have to really understand what the other person is bringing to the table and how to honor that and to communicate from a place

of connection.”

Her clinical therapy experience also taught her to appreciate the powerful potential inherent in baby steps rather than seismic shifts.

“I think a lot of people get into the work and they want to see immediate results,” Wilmot said of advocacy, though her words also

hold true for many rookie clinicians. “You have to be able to take your victories where they come, and to recognize that incremental change is real and signifcant, and can lead to much more fundamental change.”

SPRING 2023 / 35 / / Alumni Profile /
It was very clear from the
beginning that I wanted to
be a social change agent, to
work for policies that worked
for all people.
Pam Wilmot with former Attorneys General Scott Harshbarger, Maura Healey (current governor of Massachusetts), and Francis Bellotti at Common Cause’s 2018 A Cause to Celebrate Fundraiser Above: Pam Wilmot in Serengeti at the Boston Public Library where National Park in Tanzania where Maura Healey was honored for her she led a trip for the Appalachian work promoting accountability Mountain Club in 2017 to climb and democracy reform. Mount Kilimanjaro.

100 Years Later

Our commitment to clinical social work and immersive internship experiences has remained unchanged since our founding, as this ad from 1925 suggests.

We hope they caught the typo before this went to press! Did you catch it?


The careers that create meaningful, lasting change in people’s lives are led by professionals who all share a determination that routinely takes them above and beyond. And you can fnd those individuals in the professional education programs of Smith College School for Social Work. Here you’ll fnd a community that recharges you in ways that go beyond networking, programs that transform careers and a commitment to greater justice and anti-racism.

Smith College School for Social Work Professional Education is where the best thinkers come together to tackle the relevant issues in clinical social work today.

A Sampling of Recent and Upcoming Events

May 18–19 Working with Transference from a Relational Psychodynamic Perspective 6 CEs, Virtual

June 5–6 Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depressive Disorders

Among Adults 6 CEs, Virtual

June 7 Assisting Teens and Families in Joint Decision Making in Serious Illness

3 CEs, Virtual

June 14 & 21 All Sex is Queer Sex: Aging Sexuality as a Crucible 6 CEs, Virtual June 23 Deepening Clinical Practice Conference 5.5 CEs, In-Person

Certificate in Palliative and End-of-Life Care

Session I: October 27–29, 2023

Session II: December 1–3, 2023

Session III: April 27–29, 2024

Application Deadline: August 1, 2023

Up to 45 CEs available

• Live Webinars

• Post-Graduate Certifcate Programs

• Online Courses On Demand


Go Beyond.
Professional Education.


Northampton, MA 01063
SERVICE REQUESTED Smith SSW has a new look (online!)  • Profles of alumni, students, faculty and staff • Updated and easier-to-use navigation • A fresh new layout • Check out upcoming events
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