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A proud legacy

The Faculty of Social Work celebrates 35 years of social work education in southern Alberta

There was a bit of a “double-anniversary” celebration in Lethbridge recently as the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work celebrated 50 years as a Faculty and 35 years of social work education in Southern Alberta.

The event was held in the beautiful Galt museum, overlooking the valley and bridge. Alumni from several decades, current and former faculty, students and community partners enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and elegant classical guitar as they caught up with one-other and reflected on the legacy of University of Calgary’s southern Alberta campus.

The evening featured speeches by Associate Dean of the Southern Alberta Region William Pelech, PhD; the Honourable Shannon Phillips, MLA for Lethbridge-West; Peter Gabor, PhD, long-time faculty member and former Associate Dean for the region, Richard Gregory, MSc, RSW, President of the Alberta College of Social Workers, who provided additional funding for the event, and, Jackie Sieppert, PhD, RSW, Dean of the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work.

Jackie Sieppert, "Proud legacy of social work eduction in southern Alberta"

Sieppert reflected on the tremendous impact that 35 years of Social Work education has had in building practice and policy in Lethbridge and shaping the conversation around issues such as poverty, homelessness and domestic violence. In closing he reiterated that alumni, faculty and staff should be “incredibly proud of the legacy created by the Southern Alberta Region.”  Sieppert closed his remarks by confirming the University of Calgary’s support for Social Work Education in Southern Alberta saying, “The Region is going to be sustained. It is going to continue to grow. It will continue to be an important part of this community. And to our community partners, especially those who take our students for practicum placements – you are the heart of social work education. We can't do what we do without you.”

Hon. Shannon Phillips, "The truth about social work education..."  

The Hon. Shannon Phillips brought greetings from the Premier and the Alberta Government and reflected on what it means to have six MLAs with a social work education in government. “Having the Alberta experience of social workers in government and in cabinet is helping to show us the truth about social work education,” said Phillips, “ which is that it is very good at producing policy minded advocates for social justice. When it comes down to making decisions, consulting the public and solving really difficult problems together, the fact is having social workers in our cabinet means we are more thoughtful about the impact of our decisions on people. We are more appreciative of the diversity of our province's citizens who each contribute to the fabric of our community.

“Our caucus is ten per cent social workers. It's a strong caucus. We work collaboratively on matters of social justice. We think deeply about the people to whom our decisions and policy will affect. We never lose sight of our special role in minimizing the effects of inequality. To breach caucus confidentiality for one moment, I am fairly certain that we are the only caucus and cabinet that has ever had a MLA lead briefing on intersectionality. But that is what happened shortly after we were elected and social workers led peer-to-peer education.”

Peter Gabor, "Program faced many headwinds..." 

Peter Gabor, PhD has 32 years of history with the Southern Alberta Region, as a professor since 1993 and having served  as Associate Dean, Division Head for the Southern Alberta Region for many years. Gabor reflected on the early days of the Region’s operations when it was basically run by a three-person staff augmented with sessional instructors. Reflecting on early years with lean budgets Gabor said, “It may seem like a program that has really grown and prospered over the years, but actually it is a program that is here despite having faced many headwinds over the years, and not friendly Chinook winds.”  Gabor went on to credit the Lethbridge community for supporting and advocating for the southern Alberta region saying, “The one thing that I can say is that there is really only one reason that we’re here and that we’ve been here for all these years and that has been because our community was always there for us. You lobbied for us. You wrote letters. You talked to community leaders. You came to meetings and you gave those of us who were struggling to get the program going your friendship and your support and your encouragement.”

William Pelech, "Indeed a time for social workers!"

The current Associate Dean for the Southern Alberta Region, William Pelech, PhD, closed the evening by reflecting on the importance of social work as a profession to Southern Alberta – and the world – in the age we’re living in. “In many parts of the world the climate is changing. Respect for people who are different has diminished. Thoughtful debate and discussion is too often being replaced by violence and accusations. A world where hate-filled populism blasts reasoned, respectful dialogue,” said Pelech, who went on to say, “Through social work, nations, communities and individuals can create relationships to repair a socially, economically and environmentally just world.

"A world where we realize that the challenges faced by a homeless person seeking refuge or by a community devastated by flooding induced by climate change isn’t a reflection of their own deficits. It’s a reflection of who we are, where we have fallen short and how we can do better. Social workers stand against oppression and marginalization. As social workers we advocate for the creating spaces for respectful dialogue to learn from each other. It is indeed a time for social workers.”

By Don McSwiney

Originally published on the Faculty of Social Work website, February 2017


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