When I was 18 years old, I took a class called Introduction to Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and this class was taught by Beth Sertell, MSW. I found it really easy to connect to my small class of about nine individuals and easy to connect to the figures in history of women’s movements. Learning about first, second, and third wave feminism was very liberating for me, especially learning about Alice Paul. Alice Paul was one of the main advocates and community organizers for the campaign to create the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote. She and several women were arrested at the gates of the White House during a peaceful protest. It is important to remember that this chain of arrests was at first seen agreeably by society because they were protesting during a time when the beginning of a war had just become the main fear of the American people. The women proceeded to participate in a hunger strike while in jail, which became a brutal secret kept from the public. The discipline and connection of these women during this movement motivated me to strive for their strength. Iron Jawed Angels is a movie recommendation for those who are further interested in Alice’s story.
I made a point to talk to Beth Sertell about how I felt about this story, I wanted her to know how much I enjoyed the idea of this new word in my life: advocacy. I truly believe that I have the ability to make big differences with advocacy and my determination. Beth asked me about considering a social work degree, rather than my previously declared environmental geography degree. I replied, “I don’t think so, I’m worried I won’t get paid enough and the stigma is not so good.” Beth smiled, “Stay after class today and I’ll tell you at least five things that will change your mind.”
That afternoon, Beth passionately convinced me to get the papers signed to change my major. She shared with me her confidence in my abilities to bring positive input, skill, and most appealingly, independent practice to social work. She told me about her private practice and she inspired me to move forward in exploring the world of social work. I also picked up the certificate program for women, gender, and sexuality studies. That certificate is the reason I received my first internship at the age of 19, when I became an intern at the Lighthouse Domestic Violence Shelter of Fairfield County.
This internship changed my life by placing me hands on, in the field, with high esteemed supervision. My skill set jumped in such a short time, but what first really gave me reason was shadowing group therapy. I got to lead with supervision and I learned from my clients the power of experience, relationships, and how those relationships and experiences interact with each other in order for my clients to find peace and meaning in conversation. These experiences included men and women and an overall enriching human vulnerability. They taught me the liberation and abilities that come from allowing vulnerability to wash over one’s soul. I witnessed this vulnerability creating a healthy atmosphere for healing.
I had a different experience when I volunteered at My Sister’s Place because my role was no longer as a shadowing clinician, my role became shadowing a shelter aid. I struggled with this position because I of the relationship between volunteer and client. With this relationship, I felt a sense of loss of trust and I believe this came from the anonymity factor of the shelter and the misunderstandings in child psychology. An example of this is being unable to truthfully respond to a child’s important questions. Although I believe the anonymity of domestic violence shelters is vital for protection, I had trouble figuring out how to respond accurately for the child’s psychological health when I and the child both know that there are evident boundaries of conversation that are vital for mom or dad’s healing. The issue is that the child recognizes the boundaries but they do not always understand why.
This experience guided me to begin shifting my practice to a macro level and examine groups and communities. Looking back to the revealing experience I had shadowing group counseling, I found that I have a strength in working and learning from an ecosystem of humans and other organisms of the Earth. One perspective I have been recently learning and using is referred to in my Dynamics of Human Behavior class as the ‘Family Resilience Perspective’. This perspective seeks to identify and strengthen family processes which allow families to rebound from distressing life experiences. There are three dimensions of this particular framework: family belief systems, organizational patterns, and communication processes.
It has become important to me to really examine these dimensions in the ecosystem of a family and examining different types and/or definitions of families. I have a goal to incorporate ecofeminist ideals in any future field work involving ecosystems and/or families in any area. “Ecofeminism is concerned with issues relating to both women and nature, focusing on interconnections between the two” (Leban 2014). Another goal I have is to express these ecofeminist ideals by comparing power and control dynamics between nature and women among current issues and battles in western civilization.
What current issues can you think of that affect a living organism’s right to a healthy life?