School of Social Work

UT President William Powers Jr. met with McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce to announce a partnership between both educational institutions last Thursday. 

The partnership, which involves sending UT social work students to South Texas to assist McAllen ISD students with personal and scholastic challenges, marks the first time UT has partnered with a school district in the Rio Grande Valley. 

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said this partnership is intended to benefit both UT students and South Texas residents.

“It’s intended to help the students and the families in the Valley who deal with unique sets of issues,” Susswein said. “There are many students who specifically want to work with Spanish-speaking populations, immigrant populations.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 93 percent of the Valley’s population is Hispanic or Latino. 

Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work, said the unique culture that exists in this region of Texas, which Mexican culture heavily influences, can provide a new kind of learning experience for UT students as opposed to staying in Austin.

“We see this as an opportunity for our students to learn an awful lot,” Zayas said. “It’s a community that’s different from Austin; it’s on the border; it has a very different cultural environment. It’s very fluid between Mexico and Texas. That would be different for a student coming from Dallas or even San Antonio.”

The two social work students chosen to work with McAllen ISD students this year are seniors Karina Ramos and Marta Morataya. The program plans to increase the number of social work students in the partnership each year, Zayas said. The students will work closely with after-school children and families who are at risk because of educational or financial challenges. 

Ponce, who focused on potential benefits of the UT-McAllen ISD alliance at a press conference Thursday, said the nature of partnerships requires teamwork.

“We recognize in order to meet the needs of all students and families — that we need to have partnerships,” Ponce said. “It’s win-win to partner with other institutions of higher education.”

If McAllen ISD students are exposed more often to UT students, barriers of educational accessibility might start to break down, Zayas said.

“Our students can influence kids in the Valley who will follow and come to UT Austin. It’s a way for us to have them feel that UT is more accessible to them,” Zayas said.

Social work graduate student Hyunwoo Yoon is the co-author of a study that examines the link between depressive symptoms and having undocumented parents. The study compared children whose parents had been deported and went back to Mexico with their parents, children whose parents had been deported and children with undocumented parents that still live in the United States.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

American-born children of undocumented parents experience elevated levels of anxiety, according to a study conducted by professors from UT’s School of Social Work. If those children’s parents have been detained or deported, they were more likely to report depressive symptoms and emotional problems, the study found. 

The study compared three groups of children: one group of American-born children living in Mexico with their deported parents, one group living in the United States whose parents had been deported, and one group living in the United States with parents who were undocumented but had not been deported. Depressive symptoms and negative self-esteem were reported in all three groups.

Hyunwoo Yoon, social work graduate student and co-author of the study, said she feels the results of the study indicate more support services are needed for children of undocumented parents in all situations.

“When undocumented parents are detained, they don’t have any, as far as I know, any support to deal with their life,” Yoon said. “We need social services to provide individual counseling and things like that … to reduce their symptoms.” 

Radio-television-film freshman Miriam Diaz-Torres, who said her parents are undocumented, said she did not feel like her experience aligned with the study’s findings.

“I have gone through several types of emotions in my eight months at UT and having undocumented parents doesn’t play a negative role in my emotions,” Diaz-Torres said. “In fact, since my parents are undocumented people, it actually motivates me to strengthen my mind for the future for them.”

Steven Yen, business freshman, said though his immigrant parents were not undocumented, the immigration process still posed plenty of difficulties.

“You can’t read the signs, you can’t order food and it’s really hard to be independent because it’s hard to know what’s going on,” Yen said. “Making people aware that this kind of stuff happens, and that it’s nothing to be frowned upon, is important. A cultural change about how we think about the issue might be helpful to students struggling with the problem.”

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Pregnant teenagers are twice as likely to use illegal substances as non-pregnant teenagers, according to research conducted by Christopher Salas-Wright, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work. 

Salas-Wright said younger teenagers are putting themselves and their babies at risk because they do not receive adequate information from parents and schools about the risks of substance use during pregnancy.

“We found that pregnant teens were significantly more likely to report using a whole array of drugs and alcohol over the past 12 months,” Salas-Wright said. “We also found that they were more likely to meet the criteria for substance use disorder.” 

Pharmacy associate professor Michela Marinelli, who works at UT’s Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research, said substance abuse during teenage pregnancy can harm prenatal development.

“It’s very frightening if pregnant teens are taking drugs,” Marinelli said. “Their children will not be normal, and, even though the most drugs they take are during the first trimester, some drugs they are taking are affecting the development of that early stage, like alcohol. The neural tube is still forming, and it will have lots of implications for the offspring later on.” 

Older teenagers, Salas-Wright said, are less likely to use substances such as alcohol and marijuana during pregnancies than younger teenagers are.

“We found that all the adolescents who were pregnant between the ages of 15 and 17 were less likely to use substances during pregnancy, but the younger adolescents — those between the ages of 12 and 14 — were more likely than their non-pregnant peers to report using substances,” Salas-Wright said.

Parental involvement and school engagement seemed to correlate with fewer instances of substance use during teenage pregnancy, according to Salas-Wright.

“We found that kids who report very consistent parental involvement and school engagement were substantially less likely to use substances during pregnancy,” Salas-Wright said. “So that seems to indicate when you’re thinking about prevention, it might make sense to involve parents and teachers in prevention efforts.”  

Pharmacy professor Robert Messing said interventions could help reduce harmful affects from teenage pregnancy, but more research and testing need to be done before establishing the cause of substance use during teenage pregnancies. 

“Intervention programs might help,” Messing said. “Let’s assume it’s true that lack of parenting is causal, is a contributing factor … you could target those youth and prevent pregnancy just by targeting the population at risk for the drug use because you want to get the pregnancy issue nipped in the bud earlier.”

The School of Social Work will begin instructing schools throughout the state on disciplinary methods alternative to suspensions and expulsions.

The Texas Education Agency granted the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue in the UT School of Social Work $521,000 to offer training in 10 Education Service Centers to implement an alternative to “zero tolerance” methods. 

Institute director Marilyn Armour said the mission of Restorative Discipline is to replace suspension and expulsion and instead forge closer relationships among students, teachers and administrators to decrease school conflicts, such as bullying, truancy and disruptive behavior.

Armour said suspensions are harmful to school environments and do not improve behavior.

“Suspensions tell students we don’t want them until they fix themselves,” Armour said. “We don’t suspend students who don’t know math when they first start school, [and] we must look at behavior the same way.”

Maria Andrea Campetella, director of communications and planning for the School of Social Work, said studies have found that suspensions correlate to academic failure.

Armour and her team first implemented the Restorative Discipline program in Texas at Edward H. White Middle School, a school in San Antonio with some of the worst disciplinary rates in its district. 

The program yielded an 87 percent drop in off-campus suspensions and a 44 percent decrease in total suspensions in its first year. The success sparked huge demand from school administrators, and Armour’s team worked to make training available throughout Texas.

Melinda Cavazos, White Middle School counselor, said the program changed teachers’ perspectives.

“In the past, if a student acted out, they were removed,” Cavazos said. “Now teachers provide the space to talk about what’s going on and what we need to do. The goal is to stay in class and learn.”

The program implements “talking circles,” which seek to foster collaboration and to encourage students to speak openly, seek support and plan steps to repair misconduct, according to Armour.  

“Talking circles build classroom communities,” Armour said, “So, when there are challenges, students and teachers lean on the power of their relationships and understand the impact their behavior has on others in order to help change it.”

Armour said the program is distinct in that it requires others to get involved.

“If Restorative Discipline were to become the norm in schools, the most important thing we would see is more caring relationships, not just in schools, but in the community,” Armour said,

Because of Dell Medical School construction, the University removed hundreds of “C” parking spots in lots near the Frank Erwin Center and School of Social Work, causing frustration among some commuting students as they returned to campus for the spring semester.

According to UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey, Lot 108, south of the Erwin Center, lost approximately 290 spots at the end of the fall semester. All of Lot 80, near the social work building, is being used to construct a chilling station for the Dell Medical School complex, Posey said.

“About 200 spaces will be returned to this lot at the completion of the project,” Posey said. “The parking needs when these spaces return will dictate the designation for these spaces, but I am certain that student parking will be a part of the mix.”

Austin Hill, mechanical engineering senior, said students who commute to campus often have difficulty finding a place to park.

“Today, I drove around for almost 10 minutes in circles waiting for a spot to open up — along with about five other cars,” Hill said. “And, sometimes when you find a spot, it’s a carpool spot, which I didn’t know was a thing until I got a ticket for it last Thursday.”

Hill said he used to park in Lot 80, but, because of the closure, he now tries to park mainly in Lot 70, just north of the closed-off area. Hill said he does not park in the lots east of I-35 because of how far they are from his classes. If he can’t find an open spot, Hill said he just pays to park on the streets around campus.

Dennis Delaney, operations manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said there are a sufficient number of empty parking spaces east of I-35.

“Before Lot E was closed on any given day, we had anywhere from 200 to 300 empty spaces on the other side of I-35,” Delaney said. “We’re still finding those locations empty — not as many as before, but there are still empty spaces that can accommodate people with a ‘C’ permit.”

Delaney said the parking services department has sold 2,264 “C” permits and 1,635 “C+” permits over the course of this academic year.

“Basically, we sell as the demand is there, so, if people are asking for them, we’ll sell them,” Delaney said.

English senior Heather French said she does not regret purchasing her “C+” permit, but she is still frustrated with her
parking situation.

“The PTS site makes it sound like parking across 35 is an easy option, when, in reality, the bus system is so unreliable that one has to plan a ton of time for taking the bus, which is not a viable alternative,” French said. 

The University is building a new parking garage near the site of the new medical school in order to make up for lost spaces, Posey said.

“The garage will have 100-plus spaces, and it will serve the medical school district, including students,” Posey said. “The overall net gain for parking spaces on campus because of the Dell Medical School will be about 600-plus spaces.”

Delaney said the new parking spaces at the medical school garage will be accessible to all students.

“At the medical school, the only people who are probably going to want to park over there are the nursing school students and medical school students, so the demand that’s there from them is what’s going to drive how popular that garage is,” Delaney said.

Photo Credit: Callie Richmond | Guest Contributor

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews with the deans of the 18 schools and colleges of the University. Social Work Dean Luis Zayas was appointed in 2012. This interview has been condensed.

The Daily Texan: So could you start by telling us a little bit about your plans and goals for the School of Social Work as well as some of the successes you’ve had since you were appointed dean in 2012?

Luis Zayas: What I had encountered when I first arrived was that it was top heavy at the full professor and associate professor ranks, and at the time when I arrived, there were only two assistant professors in a faculty of 30-something. So, to me that’s not good succession planning. Over the past three years, I’ve been able to fill in more assistant professor level positions and now we are up to seven assistant professors and a dozen each of the other two. Our school really needs new infrastructure, a new building or a well renovated one. Especially if we are to compete with the elite schools of social work. 

DT: How have you been lobbying for a new building?

Zayas: One of the things we’ve done has been an architectural assessment of our building and they poked it and prodded it an lifted it and looked up the hood, poked the tires, that sort of thing. We hear that it has strong bones but the organs are failing. Lobbying is a good word. It’s helping others to understand our needs and where we should best be positioned.

DT: Speaking of the new medical school, how do you see the School of Social Work collaborating with them?

Zayas: We’ve already started. One of the things I’ve done in my administration is to appoint an assistant dean for health affairs, Dr. Barbara Jones… One of the things we are doing a lot, and nursing and pharmacy are deeply involved as well, is inter-professional education. How do we get our students talking to each other as professionals early on? You know, you ask any physician who they need on the team and most often they’ll say a social worker.

DT: Like certain other programs, including nursing, the School of Social Work has a low male enrollment. What is it trying to do to increase the number of male students? 

Zayas: One of the things we need to do is reach out to the average undergraduate male and help them understand what social work is and what we do.

DT: Can you say a little bit about the newly established dual-degree program between the School of Social Work and Latin American Studies?

Zayas: The students will come in and they’ll do half and half at the schools… A student doesn’t just go into [Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies] or social work and then the second year bounce back. Rather, we integrate them early on so that they have a foot in both schools all along the way. In their field work placements, most of them will start out in local field internships, in organizations that serve large numbers of Latinos. In their fourth semester for the master’s student, they will then do a block placement in a Latin American country…The advantage for the student is that for those that want to work in Latin America will go with two terrific degrees to work there.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Steven Cadwell | Daily Texan Staff

Topics ranging from Steven Cadwell’s childhood in rural Vermont in the ’50s to his work as an AIDS activist in the ’80s are focal points in his latest work “Wild & Precious.” The one-man show also touches on his experience coming out as gay. Through Cadwell’s personal experiences, the show manages to explore societal changes over the past 50 years.

Cadwell, a UT alumnus, takes the audience through his life in “Wild & Precious,” a performance made up of poetry, songs and stories. 

Cadwell has brought “Wild & Precious” to the stage in Boston and to universities such as Smith College and Brown University. The next stop on his tour is UT. Bringing the show to life, however, came with a set of issues familiar to any stage show — writing, rehearsing, performing — but, for Cadwell, there were other struggles as well.

“[It] was really challenging to go back and relive moments that were traumatic,” Cadwell said. “Now, this is what I ask of my clients everyday, [and] it takes courage to go into memories that we would rather avoid and defend against in order to integrate the full range of who we are, not just seal it away in a closet, if you will. And that’s really the whole metaphor of the piece.”

As challenging as it was, through confronting and bringing his own struggles to the surface, Cadwell feels that he’s grown through the process. He believes that confronting shame is essential to become “oneself.”

“Ultimately, I feel stronger — as everyone does when we go into a safe place and are able to explore the fullness of who we are without judgement,” Cadwell said.

Cadwell will bring his story and his show to the School of Social Work’s Utopia Theatre as part of an ongoing week of events exploring LGBT issues. The series of events, which began Wednesday, features panels, discussions and sessions analyzing LGBT issues from the past and present.

Bringing “Wild & Precious” to campus has been something he’s wanted to do for a while.

“I’m excited to come back [to UT] and bring more of what I’ve learned, but also bring back home my gratitude,” Cadwell said.

According to Jennifer Luna-Idunate, director of the DiNitto Center for Career Services, this week of events on campus was built around “Wild & Precious” and began with Cadwell wanting to bring his show to the School of Social Work.

Several other alumni are listed as discussion and panel guests on the schedule for the week. 

“It’s just a really good way to reconnect them back to the school, and alumni love coming back and giving back to the students and to the School,” Luna-Idunate said.

Cadwell feels that Austin is a fitting place to bring “Wild & Precious” and hopes the show can leave its own mark on the city.

“I mean, the slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is for me, core to that affirmation of difference and diversity, which is core to what I see liberated, social living is,” Cadwell said. “So I’m glad to bring a little more of my weird to Austin’s weird and have a wonderful, wild and precious, weird time!”

Starting next fall, UT will offer a degree to suit the growing demand of social workers with an understanding of Latino and Latino immigrant culture in Texas.

The School of Social Work and the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, or LLILAS, will offer a dual-degree program at the graduate level, combining social work skills with competency in Latino culture and languages. Those who complete the program will receive a Master of Science in Social Work and a Master of Arts with a major in Latin American studies. The program is the first of its kind in the country, according to LLILAS spokeswoman Susanna Sharpe.

Jane Kretzschmar, assistant dean for the Master of Science in Social Work program, said there has been a gap between social work in Texas and the needs of its diverse Latino and immigrant population. Kretzschmar said the new program is looking to attract mostly people who speak a Latin American language.

“I have been in Texas for a long time, and I know a lot of social workers who wish they had that background,” Kretzschmar said.

Former LLILAS graduate student Cintia Huitzil petitioned for the degree program by working with students from the School of Social Work and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. According to Sharpe, Huitzil started collecting the signatures for a letter proposing the degree program in spring 2013.

“I hope that in combining these disciplines, LLILAS and the School of Social Work can foment a more critical and conscientious student body with the theoretical and practical background to best serve the Latinos and Latin American immigrants in this country,” Huitzil said in a statement.

Huitzil, a second-generation indigenous Chicana, was a social worker based in Los Angeles before getting her graduate degree at UT. She worked with indigenous immigrants to help them gain access to social services.

Sharpe said there used to be a “disconnect” concerning Latin American studies. The degree used to focus on observing the countries from afar rather than actually partnering with the people from those countries in order to understand their culture and politics.

“That’s partly what this degree is about — making [social workers] serve as partners,” Sharpe said. “It would be so much more helpful if we knew more about the social and political context of these people.”

Social work graduate students Angela Baucom and Shubhada Saxena were two of four students to help with the Rundberg photo-voice project at Dobie Middle School this past summer.

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Students in the School of Social Work assisted a group of Northeast Austin middle school students with a photography project depicting life in the Rundberg community through the eyes of the youth. 

The photography project was completed by students enrolled in a summer program, designed for at risk youth at Dobie Middle School as part of Restore Rundberg, an Austin Police Department initiative that aims to reduce crime in the neighborhood. The project developed out of a UT class taught this summer by social work professor Cal Streeter. According to Streeter, much of the course content focused on the real-world question of how to engage a community like Rundberg, such as giving students an opportunity for hands-on experience. 

“They get to see first-hand how empowering that is for, in this case, the group of students,” Streeter said. “One of the projects we decided to do was to learn more about the community through the eyes of young people in the community, and photo-voice is one methodology that you can use to do that.”

Angela Baucom, social work graduate student, was one of four UT students who walked the middle school students through the process of taking photographs that captured life in their community and how to explain what made their pictures meaningful. She said she had a slightly different perspective than some of her fellow social work students because she used to work as a teacher in the public schools. 

“I came at it from that point of view, of reaching out to kids and trying to get them involved in their community, which is something that I’ve done in the past,” Baucom said. 

Baucom said the project was not something originally outlined in the APD initiative, which receives federal funding from the Obama administration's Neighborhood  Revitalization Initiative.

“This is kind of a next step beyond just the actions that have been taken to try and kind of approach some of the crime in the area,” Baucom said. “This is more about incorporating the youth perspective to enhance the relationship not only between the APD and the community, but also just the project in general and the community. 

David Contreras, executive director and founder of LaunchPad the Center, a nonprofit organization which hosted the afterschool program for the students, said the experience was personally impactful for the younger students because they felt like they were able to share their perspective on their own community. 

“I guess the bottom line is they felt empowered to really convey a part of the city that, unless you’re from this part of the city, it’s hard to identify with the different types of challenges that exist on East Rundberg Lane,” Contreras said. “They felt like, ‘Somebody wants to hear how we think.’”

Baucom said the project will continue this semester — seven new middle school students will be participating in the program this semester. 

“Personally, I always love seeing young people engaged in creative pursuits,” Baucom said. “That’s not an opportunity a lot of youth get, especially youth in areas like the Rundberg neighborhood that are suffering economically and from heightened crime.

Social work assistant professor Christopher Salas-Wright’s research on discrimination was published in the August 2014 edition of “Addicive Behaviors.” The study he co-authored found that discrimination increased the risk of addictive behaviors.

Photo Credit: Mike McGraw | Daily Texan Staff

A researcher in the School of Social Work found that discrimination of multiple types experienced by African Americans and Caribbean blacks on a daily basis can increase the risk for mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse.

The research — co-authored by Christopher Salas-Wright, a social work assistant professor —  was published in the August 2014 edition of “Addictive Behaviors.” The study compared the presence and severity of mental disorders in African-American, Caribbean black and non-Hispanic white populations in the United States. The research was based on the experiences of 4,400 respondents, ages 18-65, and their everyday discrimination.

The study showed 83 percent of the respondents reported experiencing discrimination over the past year. Those who encountered multiple types of prejudicial discrimination were two-and-a-half times more likely to develop addictive behaviors related to alcohol or drugs, and those who experienced it on a weekly or even monthly basis were four times more likely to develop addiction and behavioral problems.

Trenette Clark, social work assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led the study, along with co-authors Keith Whitfield, Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor, and Michael G. Vaughn, Saint Louis University social work professor.

One of the main focuses of the study was the identification of the different categories of discrimination that can lead to depressive and anxiety disorders as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

Salas-Wright said it is the combination of disrespect and condescension discrimination, along with character-based and hostile treatment, that puts African Americans and Caribbean blacks at a greater risk for mental disorders.

“The different types of discrimination that people were experiencing translated into different health outcomes,” Salas-Wright said. “People who just experienced condescension didn’t have the same health outcome as those who had more hostile forms of discrimination.”

Noël Busch-Armendariz, School of Social Work associate dean for research, said the research is relevant to society.

“[The findings] tell us that racism is part of the everyday lives of a significant number of Americans and that this has significant negative consequences,” Busch-Armendariz said. “Perhaps more importantly, this research opens the discussion about our collective responsibility and points to the need to move forward more quickly to rectify this persistent and demoralizing social issue in our country.”

This study was introduced to history professor Leonard Moore, who related it to micro-aggression.

“Micro-aggression [is] everyday aggression African Americans feel even at a work place and school that serves to remind us of our race,” Moore said.