Social Work Student Organizations
MSW students are driving change and creating community as leaders of social work student organizations
Led by MSW students at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW), student organizations build community and make meaningful change in areas such as diversity and inclusion, the environment, and social and racial justice. Meet some of the students leading these dynamic organizations and learn more about ways you can engage.
Myleah Coleman leads ECO (Environment + Conservation + Opportunity) Conscious, which was founded by students to promote conservation and environmental justice in the GSSW community and beyond by focusing on three goals: 1) educating and enlisting the DU community to use Earth’s resources responsibly, 2) fostering greater connection with Earth through opportunities to explore and enjoy nature, and 3) advocating for political change for environmental justice through organized action.
“I have always loved being outdoors and appreciating the Earth we live on, and it is one of the reasons why I love Colorado,” says Coleman, who will graduate in spring 2021 with an MSW concentration in Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice and an Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate. “As a Black woman, I am always motivated to see more people like myself experiencing the outdoors, so leading ECO to reach more BIPOC students was an easy choice.”
Coleman has recruited more students of color to participate “to consciously address the racial and socioeconomic intersections in environmental interactions.” Like many aspects of society, she explains, environmental issues and outdoor activities are influenced by systemic racism, classism and social context. “ECO hopes to promote these intersections so that social workers don’t feel as if they must address environmental and social justice issues separately,” Coleman says. “ECO is also consciously trying to make outdoor recreation more diverse and accessible.”
Graduate Student Association
The Graduate Student Association (GSA) contributes to GSSW’s vibrant community by helping to center the student voice in school governance. Co-chaired by Kelly Nicks and Drew Stem, GSA organizes community events, provides conference scholarships, shares student concerns with GSSW leadership, and provides a forum for GSSW students to discuss issues that concern them.
“GSA is an opportunity for students to practice self-determination and advocate for ourselves and our clients and communities,” says Nicks, who plans to work in criminal defense or immigration law after graduation in spring 2021 with an MSW concentration in Mental Health and a Latinx Social Work Certificate.
As GSA co-chair, Nicks also participates in the University of Denver Graduate Student Government, collaborating with graduate students in other disciplines to advocate for all graduate students at the University.
Phi Alpha Honor Society
Brittni Wexler is president of GSSW’s chapter of the Phi Alpha national social work honor society, which fosters a closer bond among social work students and promotes humanitarian goals and ideals. MSW student membership in the Xi Delta Chapter is based on grade point average and adherence to the National Association of Social Workers code of ethics. The Xi Delta chapter also encourages members to participate in community service.
“I love education and really enjoy being a part of an organization that celebrates academic success,” says Wexler, a CLIMB-OWEP stipend recipient who will graduate in spring 2021 with an MSW concentration in Child Welfare. Wexler has worked to develop a mentorship program that connects alumni and students to help students better understand job opportunities and licensing requirements and expectations.
“As social workers, we are bound by our code of ethics to help people in need and address social problems,” says Wexler, who plans to work as a child trauma therapist. Organizations like Phi Alpha create strong leaders who are united in pursuit of this mandate, she says.
Queer Equality Alliance
MSW students Moriah Jones and Sophie Zbesko co-lead the Queer Equality Alliance, which creates a space for queer folx and allies to sustain community, educate others and advocate for liberation in order to create a radical sense of belonging and culturally responsive inclusivity at GSSW and the broader community.
Zbesko will graduate in spring 2021 with a concentration in Health & Wellness; she plans to work in positive youth development and community development. Jones will graduate in spring 2021 with a concentration in Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice and an Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate; she plans to work developing programming for adult offenders using animal intervention and assisted techniques.
“I am devoted to providing a space to create community, educate on specific
LGBT+ issues and advocate for the advancement of the LGBT+ community,” Zbesko says. For example, the organization continues to lobby for more gender-neutral bathrooms throughout campus.
Jones’s passion for Queer Equality Alliance comes from growing up in the South, where she says there was little advocacy or education surrounding LGBT+ communities and no open community for Queer folx to come together. “Having this opportunity to be part of a space that allows for that and so much more was something I had always wanted to be a part of,” Jones says. “I see this as an advancement of social justice both on and off DU’s campus.”
Shades of Brown Alliance
Esha Mehta leads the Shades of Brown Alliance (SOBA), which offers an affirming, supportive, encouraging environment for all individuals of color, allies, staff, faculty, and alumni of GSSW to learn, voice, escape, mature, and positively confront and address the issues that people of color experience as a part of the GSSW experience.
The organization encourages open dialogue about how to foster meaningful changes within GSSW for people of color, says Mehta, who will graduate in spring 2021 with an MSW concentration in Health & Wellness and an Animal-Assisted Social Work Certificate. Most GSSW Denver Campus students are white, which Mehta says can create a difficult dynamic for students of color. SOBA brings together students, professors, faculty, and allies to freely discuss what it is like being a racial minority at GSSW and at DU.
“As social workers, we have the responsibility to not only hear but to listen to the experiences of marginalized groups. However, it does not end at listening. Action to mitigate problematic issues is critical,” Mehta adds. “SOBA is in the forefront of creating change by responding to concerns and ideas of minoritized people within the entire GSSW community.”
Social Workers for Social Justice
During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, MSW students Stephanie Tercero and Melissa Golden saw a need for additional resources and support within the GSSW community. So, they co-founded and lead Social Workers for Social Justice, which organizes the GSSW community to support and participate in grassroots anti-oppressive community action. The organization also provides education about how to approach community organizing and activism through an anti-oppressive lens and how to incorporate activism into daily life.
Tercero will graduate in spring 2021 with a concentration in Sustainable Development & Global Practice. Golden will graduate in spring 2021 with a concentration in Organizational Leadership & Policy Practice and certificates in School Social
“This group has so much potential to build power for grassroots social justice movements,” Tercero and Golden said. “Part of our role is to connect GSSW students to the community at large and bring together folks who are fighting for the same changes. We also want to prepare ourselves as social workers to enter the field with a better understanding of our roles and responsibilities in social justice spaces as well as how to meaningfully engage with change work.”