Social Work welcomes four new faculty to empower social change in Detroit and beyond

The Wayne State University School of Social Work is proud to welcome four new faculty members - Kess Ballentine, Luisa Kcomt, Lisa Panisch, and Bryan Victor - working to reduce the hidden punishments of lower-income family labor wins, advance health and wellness for sexual and gender diverse and racial/ethnic minority populations, transform intergenerational family cycles of trauma, and improve child welfare practices.

The newest additions to the social work community have already begun to connect with students, community members, partner organizations and leaders in the field to advance social justice in our urban home and across the U.S. Please join us in welcoming them into our social work warrior family! 

Kess Ballentine, PhD
Reduce the hidden punishments of lower-income family labor wins

Kess Ballentine has joined the School’s faculty as an Assistant Professor working to improve family and child well-being among lower-income families in the heart of Detroit. Ballentine has found that even in “pretty good” lower wage jobs, individual and structural discrimination complicate the potential benefits of labor wins and punish lower wage workers for accessing improved labor conditions. Ballentine’s work examines the complicated realities of implementing progressive labor policies in the community, including how labor affects the way a parent interacts with child-serving systems, such as school or child welfare agencies. “Women, particularly Black and Brown women, are disproportionately working in the low-wage job sector, and my study found that while many policies in these ‘pretty good’ jobs were beneficial, the benefits were undermined by racism, sexism, and poor job quality.”

Luisa Kcomt, PhD
Advancing health and wellness for sexual and gender diverse and racial/ethnic minority populations

Luisa Kcomt has joined the School as an Assistant Professor. Kcomt uses a social justice lens to advance health equity and promote the health and well-being of sexual and gender diverse (SGD) and racial/ethnic minority individuals across the nation. Kcomt’s research has demonstrated how contextual factors such as discrimination can influence substance use/misuse and substance use disorders. “Social workers and other professionals should be aware of the multi-faceted nature of transphobic discrimination as unique social stressors that many transgender people experience. We cannot create change if we are not aware of the problem.” Additionally, Kcomt will be collaborating with WSU and UM colleagues and Detroit area community organizations to maximize the resilience of bereaved children and adolescents by helping them to learn adaptive coping skills.

Lisa Panisch, PhD
Transform intergenerational family cycles of trauma

Lisa Panisch (photo declined) has joined the School’s faculty as an Assistant Professor focused on increasing provider access to strengths-based, trauma-responsive approaches that can help create positive changes in these cycles of adversity. Panisch studies the intersections between individual-level factors such as developmental neurobiology, mental health, and family functioning with macro-level influences such as systemic and historical oppression to gain an in-depth understanding of trauma and its consequences throughout the lifespan and across generations. “Becoming more educated about trauma allows us to truly listen to others, to hear and respect the value of their lived experience, and to interact with them in a more compassionate manner. A trauma-responsive approach is strengths-based by nature, respects the intrinsic value of all people, and enhances all forms of interpersonal relationships, including between intimate partners and friends, parents and children, clients and clinicians, students and teachers, and executives and employees, just to name a few.”

Bryan Victor, PhD
Improve child welfare practices

Bryan Victor has joined the School as an Assistant Professor working to strengthen our collective response to child maltreatment. “We need to effectively respond to child maltreatment while ensuring that involvement with child welfare systems in the United States enhance the wellbeing of both children and their caregivers, something which unfortunately is not always the case.” Victor examines policy and practice innovations designed to enhance the ability of child welfare systems to address children’s exposure to domestic violence and parental substance misuse, and to reduce the harm to families that is often associated with child welfare involvement. He also investigates primary prevention strategies for child maltreatment including the use of family resource centers to reduce rates of entry into the foster care system.

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