UHCL students gain new perspectives at Social Work Advocacy Day at the Capitol
Fifteen students and professors of social work from University of Houston-Clear Lake traveled to Austin earlier this month to participate in Social Work Advocacy Day at the Capitol. Toni Miller and Tony Gamage, both juniors pursuing Bachelor of Social Work degrees, attended the events to listen to new perspectives and learn more about other social workers’ advocacies.
Miller said the day’s agenda included a panel discussion about different House bills to be introduced, as well as a rally attended by over 200 students who spoke about the issues they were passionate about.
“It was really interesting to listen to them talking about the bills, including one about getting social work students paid internships,” they said. “It would be really beneficial if that could happen. There were other discussions about racial discrimination, LGBTQ discrimination, and the need for resources for community centers and programs.”
Miller said they learned that macro-level social work, which encompasses social work research, program development on the community level, and policy analysis, was not their area of interest. “I would define myself as a member of the LGBTQ community and issues related to that are very personal to me,” they said. “I see myself working in school social work, so I can have that one-on-one relationship with kids and families, because middle and high school are pivotal times in a person’s development, especially if they don’t have the support. I want to be that hand to say it’s not as scary as it seems.”
They said the Day at the Capitol helped them learn to listen to others’ perspectives. “There were a lot of people at the rally talking about personal experiences that I had not taken into consideration,” they said. “I was nervous to speak, but I did. I’m glad I spoke. LGBTQ rights is a massive issue in the country and I’m excited I had that opportunity to prove to myself that I can speak out about things I’m knowledgeable about.”
Gamage, who transferred to UH-Clear Lake from San Jacinto and did overseas missionary work for 33 years, said his Day at the Capitol experience helped him understand what it was like to be part of a bigger movement. “Social work advocacy is not just us here,” he said. “It’s statewide, nationwide. It’s also about networking with other social workers and advocates. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have seen all that.”
He said he hoped to work with veterans in organizations outside the Veterans Administration. “I think there’s a dawning of awareness about the needs of doing more for veterans,” he said. “I chose social work after going through therapy myself at the VA. I saw veterans who looked fine on the outside, but then heard about the traumatic experiences they were going through silently. This is why I’d like to become a social work advocate for veterans.”
Lecturer in Social Work Laura Kanter, who was among the UHCL professors who accompanied to group to the Capitol, said that one of the most empowering outcomes for students was that they became less intimidated about getting involved in policy advocacy.
“Students hear from lawmakers and legislative aides that they can have a role in shaping policy and that their voices count,” she said. “When we asked the legislative aides to some of our elected officials what we could do help them move good legislation, or to help stop harmful bills from being passed, the unanimous call was for all of us to share our voices in whatever ways possible.”
Kanter said that too often, people watch oppressive bills get passed because they do not know that our phone calls, emails, letters and especially visits to our legislators, can make a difference.
“Visiting the Capitol and seeing that is just a big building with a lot of offices and also being reminded that it is, in fact, our house, can be really empowering,” she said. “The Day at the Capitol also was a demonstration of the growing number of social workers across the state and the power that we can have when we all work together.”
For more information about UHCL's Social Work program, go online.