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PhD Student Spotlight: Anna Ortega-Williams


Why do I want to be a Social Work Scholar Activist?

I have been a social worker for 16 years, working in settings such as public schools, community centers, home based medical service teams, and crisis hotlines as a counselor, group facilitator, trainer, field instructor, and evaluator. As an activist, I’ve been involved in local community building and campus organizing efforts, anti-war work and anti-police brutality campaigns. In 2008, I was one of the founding members of the Radical Social Work Group, a collective of social service workers that advocates for anti-oppressive social work practice and activism. On this journey, I have had the honor to witness how the field of social work has evolved. As a PhD student at Fordham, I’ve had the opportunity to situate the work I do in the greater context of the field of social work thought and practice. It has been powerful. As a social work scholar activist, my goal is to help shape and feed this tide of responsive, accountable, and transformative social work that is continuously emerging.

Social workers are not just consumers of knowledge, we are architects! We have lived experiences of working at the front line within institutions and various systems.  We provide counseling to help people cope with various needs, including healing from the trauma of racism and social inequity. We also seek to interrupt systemic violence through macro social work.  We act as bridges to connect individuals and families to the resources they deserve, and to each other. We advocate for the rights of individuals, families, and communities that are often denied. We are social workers! Our knowledge is valuable and can help to shape the world that we want to live in and the practices, policies, and priorities that impact the people we work with and for. The knowledge that we can surface from our own experiences, along with centering the voices of those whom we serve as allies, can be a contribution that ushers in not only healing but also power for social justice.

Why a Fordham PhD in Social Work?

For the past six years I have been a doctoral student at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. I have had professors and colleagues here that have been true mentors and catalysts for my development.

As a social work scholar activist and organizer, I have dedicated my life’s work to Black youth healing from systemic violence, social inequities, and historical trauma. My dissertation in particular focuses on understanding the meaning of organizing to Black youth who are working for racial and economic justice in New York City. I want to understand what features of organizing make a difference for Black youth’s wellbeing and what role, if any, does organizing play in facilitating healing and post-traumatic growth in the context of historical trauma.

To begin to answer this question, I have begun to interview Black youth organizers. Hearing their stories has been profound. It has galvanized my efforts as an organizer and activist, broadened my understanding of what is relevant as a scholar, and been very healing for me as a human being. To be a social work scholar activist and organizer is a privilege for which I am grateful and I want to be deeply accountable.

The Dean’s Challenge

Dean McPhee has challenged our scholar community, students and professors alike, to be actors on the city and world stage. She has called us not be bystanders when there is violence and harm being enacted in our name, whether it is about racial profiling, police brutality, or executive orders that attack our right to exist here in the United States. I appreciate this call, this charge, to be a part of the collective resistance and the swelling tide of love and solidarity that is occurring. I stand with our learning community in standing up and taking action, personally and collectively, to create the world in which we want to live.


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