Rad(ical) Social Workers group is dedicated to critical thought and action in social work

There’s a new Wayne State University School of Social Work group on campus, and they’re pretty rad…literally. Known as the Rad(ical) Social Workers, they’re focused on the education and practice of radical and abolitionist social work perspectives. Assistant Professor Kess Ballentine, PhD is the group’s faculty liaison, and student Hannah Mathers is one of the group's many leaders. Non-hierarchal leadership is a value the group aims to practice so all are encouraged to take leadership positions and share the work in the group. 

Rad(ical) social workers
Rad(ical) Social Workers group (clockwise from top left): MSW student Elizabeth Crenshaw; Faculty Liasion Kess Ballentine; MSW student Elizabeth Newton; MSW student Jacq Melbardis; MSW student Hannah Mathers; MSW student Rachel Lasser; and MSW student Raven Eaddy 

“Our mission is to create a space to supplement our regular social work education by learning and applying critical, anti-oppressive, feminist, and abolitionist social work approaches, examining current social work practices through a critical lens. We’re supporting each other to develop as critical thinkers and sharing our experiences to build a strong collective,” the group said.

Rad(ical) Social Workers was founded because students expressed a desire to deeply critique traditional social work roles and practices, as well as to build skills and resilience to pursue transformative change in their practice and community.

The group meets virtually once a month on Tuesdays for Solidarity Sessions, where members can connect with each other and share challenges in the field or class and provide each other with support. They also meet in person once a month on Fridays, at a residence or public place.

As part of a group project, members created colorful, thought-provoking collages with messages such as “Radical simply means grasping things at the root” (from the teachings of Angela Davis), “Transform,” “Stop what you are doing and listen,” and “Let’s figure it out together.”

Rad(ical) student members with posters they created
Rad(ical) members with their collages (from left): Raven Eaddy, Rachel Lasser, and Hannah Mathers

“We’re encouraged to think about the ways that radical thought and action may interrupt systems that are perpetuating harm in the social work field,” Mathers said.

Previous group events included a two-hour Detroit Revolutionary Tour to learn about the history of Detroit activism and participate in a community debrief at the Boggs Community Center in Detroit.

They’ll be hosting a two-part workshop called “Building Resilient Communities” on March 20 and April 3, 2023, in collaboration with Accountability for Dearborn and Wayne State University’s Coalition of Community Social Workers. Participants will be challenged to reimagine systems that are constructed on mutual connection and care—not by alienation and isolation. Those interested can RSVP at https://linktr.ee/wsu_rad_socialworkers.

Any level of social work student (BSW, MSW, PhD) is welcome to join, especially those with an expressed interest in critical or radical social work (e.g. feminist, afro-centric, abolitionist social work, etc.). Students wishing to join can contact Ballentine, visit Linktree or Get Involved.  

Author: Laura Hipshire laurahipshire@wayne.edu

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