From: Morgan Vuknic
Creative Services Student Writer
“Advocacy is so important because there’s a lot going on in the United States and around the world right now,” said social work professor Hyong Yeom. “There are issues of racial justice, racial equity, social justice, economic justice and environmental justice. It is important for a social work student to be aware of and advocate for all of these issues because it is not just about one type of clinic or patient.
Students of Yeom’s social policy and social work practice in macro systems classes are tasked with learning issues of racial, social, economic, and environmental justice and how to advocate for them in political, organizational, and community contexts. . In these classes, students are assigned to groups where they decide on an area of advocacy that is close to their hearts.
“I want students to find the social justice issues they are passionate about, raise awareness of the issues in communities, and engage with communities for systemic and lasting social change,” Yeom said.
Yeom added that due to Covid-19, students have recently started using social media platforms along with other innovative ways to promote advocacy in missions.
Two of the groups this semester focus on sexual assault and disability rights. Both groups shared information on their topics using in-person communication and social media to raise awareness.
A group of senior social work students from Yeom’s macro class founded Dukes Against Sexual Assault, an Instagram page that strives to educate the JMU community about sexual violence and raise awareness of the issue.
The group chose this topic because of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses across the United States. They said that although sexual assault is unfortunately very common, few people know the definition.
“We want to raise awareness of that and that there is not a black and white definition of what sexual assault is,” said Kesem Solell-Knepler. “I don’t think people realize how much [sexual assault] it is true; they think it’s this clear thing when it really isn’t. We try to convey that this is such a broad spectrum, but it is also a very common problem. »
While researching the topic, Natalie Rose-Ross said she learned a lot about sexual assault and was surprised at how common it was on college campuses.
“One of the things I didn’t realize before this project was how pervasive rape culture is in college,” Ross said. “It’s so normalized and horrible, but it’s there. We need to raise awareness of the resources available. We must not be afraid to report people who contribute to rape culture, otherwise it goes under the rug and we don’t don’t talk about it.
Dukes Against Sexual Assault educated themselves on the issue of sexual violence during this course, but they also want to educate students and the community.
“I feel like people don’t think about how bad this really is,” Solell-Knepler said. “We’re just one college campus in Virginia, but there are millions of campuses across the country, so I think it’s important for colleges to have people talking about the subject and raising awareness because it’s so prevalent. .”
Along with raising awareness about sexual violence, another group of junior social work students in Yeom’s social policy class work to educate students about disability rights in health care. Nicole Hillman said people with disabilities are often overlooked when it comes to activism.
“A lot of us have a disability or know someone who does,” Hillman said. “We want to draw attention to the rights of people with disabilities because we recognize that it’s not something that’s usually taught in class and needs to be looked at more.”
Through research on disability rights in health care, the group said it has become more aware of the unique challenges faced by people with different disabilities. When it comes to learning about disabilities, Jared Joyner said that from an early age we are only taught the most common ones such as anxiety and depression and we are never aware that there are so many of different disabilities that people struggle with. .
“There are so many disabilities that we should be aware of because they’re an integral part of someone,” Joyner said. “November is Epilepsy Awareness Month and I bet most people at JMU don’t know that. We want to make sure everyone is loved for themselves and not just as a disabled person and we want to show what people with disabilities have to go through.
While Dukes Against Sexual Assault and the disability rights group both deal with very different topics, they both agree that their respective social work courses have helped them learn more about systemic issues in America and their have learned to be a better advocate when they step out into the workforce.
“Advocacy is something that is a core value of social work,” said Erin Gallagher. “Before we even arrived as social work students, I think many of us were already passionate about being advocates for many different groups. Our own beliefs have translated into this project as we learn more and advocacy is something that we as future social workers really enjoy.