Scores of students and former students of the University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work gathered at the West Hartford Campus during the weekend to pay tribute to the venerable Nancy A. Humphreys who is retiring from her tenure as founder and director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work. The occasion was the 18th Annual Campaign School held Friday and Saturday, April 4th and 5th continuing its mission to enhance the political skills of social workers.
Among her former students attending were: Pedro E. Segarra, the mayor of Hartford, and Deberey Hinchey, the mayor of Norwich. Segarra was elected the 66th mayor of Connecticut’s capital city in 2012 and Hinchey was recently elected as the first woman mayor in the city’s 350 year history. They were on hand to share how useful their social work skills are in managing their respective cities and to thank Dr. Humphreys for paving the way for their political careers.
Former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns made the trip from Brooklyn to express his appreciation for the work Humphreys is doing to promote political activism among social workers. He encouraged participants to seek opportunities to run for elected office. Other notables included State Rep. Christopher Donovan, a graduate of UConn School of Social Work, who served as speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives from 2009 until 2013; Daphne L. McClellan, executive director of the Maryland Chapter of NASW; Walter Kalman, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of NASW; Joanne Cannon, director of casework for U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy (CT) and a 2006 graduate of UConn School of Social Work; and Gabriel Botero, Jr., aide to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Nancy Humphreys’ stellar career has focused primarily on women’s issues and promoting political activism in social work. She earned her MSW from the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work in 1963 and her DSW from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1975. A past president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) from 1979 until 1981, Humphreys founded the institute in 1995.
She currently directs and teaches in the Policy Practice concentration at the School of Social Work. She was dean and professor at the UConn School of Social Work from 1987 until 1995 and served as director and professor at Michigan State University’s School of Social Work from 1982 until 1987. An outstanding orator, Humphreys has spoken in every state in the United States, in every major city multiple times and extensively abroad.
Her message: social workers need to be involved in all phases of the political process. She gives three reasons. One, political activity is part of the profession’s mission to be both about helping people to change and working to change society. Second, she believes social workers are uniquely trained to serve in the political arena. And third, because federal, state and local policy-making and legislation increasingly has to do with social services issues, social workers’ knowledge, experience, and understanding of the social welfare system are essential to effective policy making. The bottom line is that if social workers are not willing to participate in politics we forfeit our right to complain about the fairness of the system.
During the two-day training participants were required to develop a five-year political plan that identified a goal and the steps needed to reach that goal. Participants received training in fundraising, strategic messaging, voter contact, and the functions and activities of political committees. Participants are encouraged to be active in the political arena. Some will work on campaigns and some will work in political offices. Many will start on paths that will end in electoral politics on all levels. These are places more social workers need to be.
The good news is that the institute will continue its work as Nancy and her partner Dr. Jo Nol begin a new chapter in their lives. Humphreys says she will take her retirement cues from Mr. Towns. She plans to devote the next three years to writing about her social work experiences. She will be succeeded by Tanya Rhodes-Smith, a former intern at the NAHIPSW who acted as the interim director during Dr. Humphreys’ sabbatical during the fall of 2010. Hats off to UConn School of Social Work Dean Salome Raheim for her role in keeping this important work alive.