Allison M. Adler, GSS ’22, has been named the Latino Social Work Coalition (LSWC) Scholarship Award recipient for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Adler came to GSS for her MSW with both undergraduate and master’s degrees in anthropology, and after working for two years conducting art and object research for museums in the NYC area.
So, why social work? Why now? She wants to help others. Adler said her natural interest in people and her anthropology degree led nicely into social work. Once she got involved at GSS, Adler learned just how much breadth and variety the social work profession contains.
“It was a calling, in a way,” Adler said. “There’s so many things social workers do that people don’t realize.”
In addition to her scholarship, Adler is helping others through her work with GSS Associate Professor Marciana Popescu, Ph.D., on the project Her Migrant Hub, a website where women asylum seekers can get the information and assistance they need.
“It’s an awesome project,” Adler said. “I‘m privileged to be a part of it.”
In this interview, we spoke to Adler about Latinx representation in social work, performing art therapy, and how being of “mixed” heritage can sometimes leave her struggling to belong.
After receiving your degree in anthropology, what made you want to pursue social work?
Anthropology is the study of human culture and history, and I think it flows nicely with social work. The reason I studied anthropology is because I wanted to help people. I went to work in museums and did a lot of object research, and research on artists, but it was farther away from what I wanted to do.
I’ve always been interested in migration and ethnic identity, and I wanted to use art and objects to show the experiences of immigrant communities. I always had this undercurrent of wanting to help people, and I realized social work was a good way to do that.
The LSWC has the key goal of heightening awareness of the shortage of Latinx social workers needed to serve the Latinx community. How important to you is Latinx representation in social work?
It’s incredibly important. It’s something I realized particularly while doing my internships. I noticed that the clinic I worked at had a lot of Latino patients and the majority of staff at that clinic was not Latino and did not really speak Spanish. There were maybe two or three employees that I knew who could serve that population. I was given one client in particular who was having trouble adjusting to treatment and she was an immigrant, and she found it so helpful to have me speaking to her on a weekly basis—someone who spoke her language and who could explain to her what was going on. And I’m sure this clinic was not unique in this way. I’m sure there are a lot of places that just don’t have the capacity or the staff who understand the language and cultures of the Latino population, and that leaves [the clients]left out, confused, and uninformed.
Working with Dr. Popescu on Her Migrant Hub is great, too, because one of the things we’re doing is translating the website into Spanish and other languages that the asylum seekers speak, because these people just don’t have access to information in one place in their language in a way that’s easy to understand.
Did you grow up in a Spanish-speaking household?
My maternal family is from Spain and Puerto Rico, and my father’s family is from Italy and Eastern Europe. This is why my last name is not Spanish, and I don’t look the way most people stereotypically think Latino people are supposed to look. I was actually hesitant to apply for the scholarship because I’m mixed.
In my family, because me and my cousins are all very mixed, there’s this sensation growing up that you don’t quite belong anywhere. You’re not quite white and you’re not quite Latino; you’re sort of in-between. I did grow up hearing Spanish and my mother would teach me what she could. No one else in the house was learning Spanish, though. I guess there’s a little bit of stigma that she grew up with. Her family experienced discrimination for speaking Spanish; her parents are immigrants. But I picked it up pretty quickly in school and it’s become a huge part of my life. It’s really important to me to have a connection to that part of my heritage, as well as my mother and her family. I think we [those with “mixed” ancestry]are a segment of the Latino community that people sort of forget about in a way. And in that way, I’m really honored to receive the scholarship, as someone who is in this in-between space.
Why did you choose Fordham for your MSW degree?
When I was looking at different social work schools, I went to Fordham for an information session, and I just really felt the passion of the people who were presenting for social work. That really struck me as, like, ‘wow this seems like a place where people really care about what they’re doing.’ That’s probably the main thing that got me to come to the Fordham. It’s a place where people really care about their students, about what they do, and about social issues.
What are your plans and goals for after graduation?
There are so many things I want to do. I do like the clinical aspect of social work. I would eventually like to pursue that, but I also like research and policy. So, I think my goal is to find something where everything fits together. But one thing I’m also really passionate about is women’s issues and women’s rights, and women who have faced gender-based violence, and particularly Hispanic and Latino women who have had those experiences. So eventually, I don’t know what, but I want to do something to help that segment of the population.
Could you explain a little more about your ideas for using art and objects in a therapeutic way?
Art is a form of storytelling. Having people tell their story in images, I think, is sometimes easier for people than putting that story into words — especially people who have experienced trauma or have a hard time articulating exactly what’s happening in their bodies or minds. Art can be a means of expressing that. And in a communal space, too, it’s a way of connecting with others and it’s very tactile. So particularly if we’re talking about Latino women who have experienced gender-based violence, I think it could be a beautiful way of helping them tell their story, what they’ve experienced, connecting with others who share their experience, and healing.
Art is the thing that brings me the most healing and joy in life. I guess in that way it can be very helpful. I like drawing, and have been drawing almost my whole life.
What does it mean to you to be chosen for this scholarship?
It means a lot — not just to me but to my family, in a way — to be recognized by a body like the Latino Social Work Coalition. Especially, like I said, feeling like you don’t belong anywhere, it’s nice to feel recognized. I know there are so many other qualified people who they have given scholarships to, and who are so worthy of this scholarship, and it means a lot to me to be chosen out of a pool of many qualified people in this community who deserve it.