For Students, By Students: Social Work Student Alliance established to address COVID-19 related changes to student life

The Wayne State University School of Social Work is pleased to announce the establishment of the Social Work Student Alliance (SWSA), a student-run organization designed to expand the focus on student organizations and issue advocacy,  improve social work students’ overall well-being and assist with student learning.

Andre Iadipaolo smiling
Andre Iadipaolo, WSU Social Work Lead

In a recent survey, WSU Social Work students reported increased isolation, stress, anxiety, and a general feeling of disconnect with the School and their fellow classmates brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic brought a multitude of sweeping changes to campus life, including the transition to online classes and virtual events. These changes came without warning, but as social workers, we understand that in times of struggle, there is also opportunity for progress. 

"We worked with students to develop SWSA as a way to address COVID-19 related changes to student life, and give students a space to collaboratively work and learn together while maintaining a proper physical distance" stated Andre Iadipaolo, MSW, WSU Social Work Project Lead. "SWSA will serve as a coordinating body for current and future student organizations online and in person." SWSA builds upon work initiated by the spring-fall 2020 ad hoc Social Work in Focus Transition Team (SWIFTT) committee and their 2020 Social Work Votes program.

When I was in social work school, some of my best hands-on practice experiences came from being in a student organization. SWSA exists to virtually recreate student engagement opportunities post-COVID-19. At SWSA meetings, any student who attends is a member, and all our members are leaders. – Andre Iadipaolo

SWSA will focus its efforts in support of three key areas: peer wellness, academic empowerment and student advocacy. These areas guide the work and emphasize the Alliance’s commitment to building student supports and action opportunities. Peer wellness is a core principle of SWSA’s mission to provide resources and opportunities to increase student’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being through peer-to-peer mentorship & the development of problem-solving skills. In support of academic empowerment, tutoring tailored to address challenging subjects such as social work statistics will be spearheaded by currently enrolled students, recent alums and faculty. Lastly, student advocacy will be cultivated through the creation of new student organizations, networking and alumni connection opportunities and student-developed activism projects.  

Student org leaders
From left: Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) Vice President Damon Creighton, Coalition of Community Social Workers (CCSW) President Rajan Varmon, and Social Work Peer Support (SWPS) Mentor and BSW Student of the Year Mary Zoran

Even as we roll into the summer, there has never been a better time to get involved with SWSA! Existing SWSA student leaders including Association of Black Social Workers (ABSW) Vice President Damon Creighton, Coalition of Community Social Workers (CCSW) President Rajan Varmon, and Social Work Peer Support (SWPS) Mentor and BSW Student of the Year Mary Zoran are currently working on a variety of student engagement opportunity initiatives including LGBTQ+ advocacy, suicide prevention and voter suppression. In collaboration with other WSU units and Michigan schools of social work, members will be provided with leadership training opportunities allowing them to develop new programs and mentor other students.

Judith Wineman smiling
Judith Wineman, WSU Social Work Student Organization Faculty Liaison

“Sometimes ‘getting involved’ just seems like more work,” stated Social Work Student Organization Faculty Liaison, Lecturer and Director of CHAMPS, Judith Wineman, MSSW. “We recognize that, and SWSA instead gives students bite-sized project pieces to get started. If students are even just curious about ways to connect and get involved, I encourage them to just stop by the weekly Tuesday call and see what the Alliance is all about.”

SWSA will be introduced to the School community with a Kick-off Meeting on April 27, 2021 from 3 – 4 pm on Zoom. In addition to introducing the Alliance, attendees will also hear from guest speaker Terrel White, MSA, MSW. White was born and raised in Detroit and is also a Political Science BA alumnus of WSU ’15. He currently serves as the Assistant Director of Philanthropy for the WSU College of Nursing and is a Policy Fellow at the Network for Social Work Management. White will briefly discuss his policy work on economic sustainability interventions and policies related to supportive housing for Trans Women of Color. White will encourage discussion via a closing Q&A session with attendees. The SWSA conversation will continue with weekly Tuesday Zoom meetings from 3 – 4 pm. 

Since becoming the Faculty Liaison to the Student Organizations, I have seen so many brilliant students lead our student orgs and organize great events. Yet without some sort of structure, succession has been difficult and some orgs have become inactive. Launching the Social Work Student Alliance brings them all together to connect with one another and new students. Students will have a permanent activities space, where they can work on the issues that matter to them and learn from one another. SWSA really embodies the moto ‘For Students, By Students’. – Judith Wineman

Learn more about Social Work student organizations.

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