Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work Announces Tanya Rhodes Smith as New Director

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and continuous efforts by various states to limit the voting power of progressive constituents demand that social workers be more politically active. Nancy A. Humphreys has led the effort to educate social workers about the importance of being involved in the political process and getting social workers to run for elected office, including Pedro E. Segarra, a graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Social Work and now mayor of Hartford, Connecticut, the state’s capital. As Dr. Humphreys moves into her well-deserved retirement, she has passed the baton to Tanya Rhodes Smith, the new director of the Nancy A. Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work (NAHIPSW).

Tanya Rhodes Smith

I asked her what her vision is for the institute going forward. “Setting the course for the Institute is one that takes time and includes the input of our Board of Advisors as well as important voices in the field,” she said. “I strongly believe in collaboration, building upon what we have learned to date and developing models that can be adopted by other schools of social work, agencies and communities to increase the power and voice of social workers and the populations we serve. The Institute has been a resource for those interested in political social work, and I would like to find additional ways to connect and support political social workers in every state.

I think it’s critical that more schools of social work regularly place students in political settings, including the offices of members of Congress, state legislators and local governments. Our Board of Advisors will be helping to set our strategic plan and focus for the next several years in the area of research, education and training, and voter registration and outreach.”

“No one can fill Nancy Humphreys’ shoes. She contributed to the field in countless ways and inspired so many of us to use our knowledge, skills and power to affect policy in a variety of settings. She taught us that civic engagement and political participation is part of our obligation as social workers.

There is a great cost when social workers don’t get involved with the political process because it means that others with less knowledge will make decisions about the populations that we care about and serve. Additionally, political participation and voting directly benefits our clients and our communities, including stronger connections and better outcomes in the areas of individual well-being, such as health, and employment. Social workers need to understand that important connection and the role that we can all play in shaping policy through the political system.”

advocacy She says she will continue projects such as the Campaign School which will be its 19th year. The Campaign school trains social workers on the inner workings of political campaigns with the hope that participants will run for office and/or assume leadership roles within campaigns as either unpaid volunteers or paid campaign staff. She will continue to emphasize voter registration. The Institute encourages all MSW students to organize voter registration activities in their field agencies.

They are partnering this year with Nonprofit Vote to educate social workers on the powerful benefits associated with voting to nonprofits, communities and to individual voters. And the institute will continue its advocacy training which she sees as an important activity that trains all first year students, as part of a required macro foundation class, on ways in which social workers can and should influence legislative policy.

Finally, I asked her what she sees as the future of political social work. “Nancy Humphreys founded the Institute for Political Social Work with the strong belief that social workers should seek elected office and that political social work practice is a legitimate specialization in the profession,” she affirmed. “There is a wide range of ways that social workers can influence and directly participate in policy decisions being made at the federal, state and local levels.

The career paths of former interns at the Institute as well as students who were placed in political social work settings confirm that social workers are qualified and successful in political roles. In addition to electoral politics, many have gone on to leadership, policy, administration, advocacy and research positions in public and private direct service and advocacy agencies throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts. Expanding political social work will include exposing more BSW and MSW students to the opportunities that exist.”

Nancy Humphreys Urges Political Activism for Social Workers

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

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.

Amazing Social Workers Around the World

Everyday, social workers assist the poor, the sick, and the injured in order to assist them with accessing the services, resources, and information needed to better their own lives. In this way, every social worker in the field is doing amazing work.

However, there are several amazing social workers around the world who are doing some great work within the profession. These five particular social workers are among the many remarkable individuals who have contributed to the world at large as professional social workers. They have advocated far and wide, achieving results for entire communities while improving society and public opinion for social workers. For these reasons, I am spotlighting them as role models for social workers everywhere. Here are their stories:

Margaret Whitlam 

Margaret Whitlam, wife of the former prime minister of Australia, completed a degree in social work at the University of Sydney in 1938 and practiced as a social worker at Parramatta District Hospital while her husband served as the federal opposition leader. Even in the role of political wife, she still made the effort to visit nursing homes, advocate for social justice and reach out to her community. She was committed to speaking on behalf of underserved populations and courted controversy when she criticized others for “never contributing anything else but a smile.”  She was particularly outspoken about issues of women’s rights, including abortion.

Sudha Murty

Sudha Murty is an Indian social worker, author and literacy advocate. As a former computer scientist and engineer, she chose to pursue social work midway through her career so she could educate the underprivileged and provide better health facilities to women, especially those living in rural areas. Among her accomplishments, she has founded several orphanages, participated in rural development efforts, advocated for literacy and provided schools with computers and library facilities.

Maylie Scott 

Maylie Scott was a social worker who graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and later obtained her Master of  Social Work degree from the University of California.  According to the book The Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America, “Maylie Scott described her primary teaching objective as empowering the sangha [community] by making sure she is the facilitator, not the ‘star.” As a socially engaged Buddhist and teacher, she worked in prisons and with the homeless. She was also a member of the Board of Directors for the Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

Teresa Hsu

Teresa Hsu Chih was a Chinese-born social worker who became a known as “Singapore’s Mother Teresa.” As a retired nurse, she founded several charities for the sick and destitute. To her clients, she brought inspiration along with the food and medicine that she collected as donations from businesses, the community, religious institutions and friends.

Hsu was still actively involved in charity work even after turning 110. She credited her vegetarian diet, yoga and positive attitude towards life for her longevity, saying, “I prefer to laugh than to weep. Those people who cry to me, I always tell them it is better to laugh than to use tissue paper, as laughing is free but tissue paper still cost five cent.”

Nancy Humphreys 

Nancy Humphreys earned her Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles and has served as dean of the Michigan State University and the University of Connecticut schools of social work, and as assistant dean at Rutgers University. She was president of the National Association of Social Workers from 1979 to 1981 and also helped establish BSW and MSW programs at Yerevan State University in the Republic of Armenia. She founded and directed the Political Social Work Practice and is a lauded public speaker.

According to the National Association of Social Work Foundation, Humphreys initially earned recognition from the New Jersey, Connecticut and California NASW chapters and was the second woman to be elected national NASW president. Since then, she has served on more than 17 commissions and task forces, and was an appointee of two governors, as well as President Jimmy Carter. Through Humphreys’ work as professor and founding director of the Advancement of Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut, she has trained several hundred social workers to operate in political campaigns.

Exit mobile version