May 2014 Features

360° of Social Work

GSSWSR faculty, students, and alumnae/i contribute their perspectives to the interdisciplinary 360° program.

By Nancy Schmucker

Toba Kerson, Professor of Social Work

Toba Kerson, Professor of Social Work

Since 2012, GSSWSR faculty, students, and alums have been participating in Bryn Mawr’s hugely successful 360° courses, developed under the tutelage of then provost, now President of Bryn Mawr College Kimberly Wright Cassidy. This innovative program offers undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in a semester-long, interdisciplinary exploration of a central theme or issue through a “cluster” of courses from different disciplines and a praxis component.

A crucial component of the 360° program is collaboration between the instructors in each cluster to ensure the goals of the program are being met. GSSWSR doctoral candidate Barbara Toews worked with Anne Dalke, term professor of English, and gender and sexuality studies, and Jody Cohen, term professor in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford  education program, to teach Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice, Vision in fall 2012.  The course cluster examined the constraints and agency of individual actors in social spaces, particularly the institutional settings of colleges and prisons. Toews taught Acting in Prison: Vision as Resource for Change, which explored the context and consequences of mass incarceration, daily experiences inside correctional institutions, and social movements inspired by incarcerated women. She was inspired by the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Model to teach the class, which entailed, for six weeks, holding a weekly session inside a correctional facility for students along with incarcerated women. Toews, Dalke, and Cohen, developed the three distinct courses in tandem, integrating the material and giving each other ideas about direction and reading materials.

“We met pretty regularly,” Toews says, “bouncing ideas off of each other and building on one another’s energy and knowledge. I just loved it.”

“This kind of collaboration is what we do best as a profession,” says GSSWSR Dean Darlyne Bailey, who is currently working with Cohen and Carola Hein, professor and chair of Growth and Structure of Cities, to develop a 360° course called Play and the City. “Social workers understand that the most effective interventions for today’s psychosocial challenges are those that recognize that no one profession or discipline can solve problems alone. It goes to the very heart of the GSSWSR: the best preparation is an education with faculty who share the core values and practices required to serve those on the ‘margins’ while incorporating perspectives from other disciplines. It shouldn’t be surprising that our faculty have been educated at schools of social work, law, and business, and have professional backgrounds as varied as psychologists, economists, sociologists, and organizational behaviorists.”

Toba Kerson, professor of social work on the Mary Hale Chase Professorship in the Social Sciences, and Rudy Le Menthéour, assistant professor in the French department, collaborated to develop a course cluster titled To Protect the Health of the Public. They co-taught the cluster along with Jason Hewitt, track coach and lecturer in athletics and physical education. It integrated three classes—Global Public Health; Hygiene and Eugenics in the Age of Enlightenment; and Nutrition, Smoking, and Cardiovascular Health—in three syllabi that examined public health issues from a variety of perspectives, but always within the framework of public policy and government responses.

Barb Toews, Ph.D. Candidate

Barb Toews, Ph.D. Candidate

“To understand the health of, say, a country,” Kerson explains, “you have to understand its cultural, political, and religious components. You also have to understand medicine, aging, biology, psychology, and sociology.”

This fall, GSSWSR will continue to participate in the 360° program as Sarah Bressi Nath, associate professor in  GSSWSR, Dalke, and Kristen Lindgren, visiting assistant professor of writing from Haverford, will collaborate to teach Identity Matters, in which students will consider the interplay between multiple systems of identity. In addition Cindy Sousa, assistant professor in GSSWSR, will work with Kalala Ngalamulume, associate professor of  history and Africana studies and Haverford faculty member Kaye Edwards to offer Struggles for Global Health Equity: Local Knowledge and International Partnerships. The course will explore how individuals, families, communities, and institutions define and pursue health, and how they respond to gaps, barriers, and inequities in this pursuit.

Kerson says the field of social work is a natural fit for the 360° program “because social workers think in terms of solutions, and solutions require collaboration and interdisciplinary examination.” She adds, “This was the most exciting teaching experience of my forty-year career. I was impressed with the creativity of the students and their willingness to take on anything we threw at them. They really challenged themselves.”