If you’ve been looking to increase your sense of community with fellow Graduate School of Social Service students, faculty, staff, and administration, the Lincoln Center Student Congress wants to help.
Spearheaded by Hannah Babiss, GSS ’21, Liz Manus, GSS ’20, and Tessa Engel, GSS ’20, the Lincoln Center Student Congress has dedicated itself to recruiting new members for the upcoming academic year. The most important thing they want you to know: anyone can get involved.
“We’ve always been very adamant that involvement is whatever you want it to be,” Babiss said. “You don’t have to have any specific time commitment. If, at one point, it’s exam week and there’s just too much going on, participation can be as much as showing up to events or donating when we do our drives – that is great participation.”
Not to mention, Student Congress allows GSS students to build community among their peers, and throughout the bustling borough of Manhattan.
“In this program, you’re sitting next to people who are in palliative care and people who are in children and families, and this is just bringing a space to bring those voices together,” Manus said. “Because once they come together and a few people are passionate about a similar thing, bam!”
The Reformation of Student Congress
Back in 2018, when Manus and Engel first got on campus, Student Congress didn’t have much of a presence at Lincoln Center. So, they inherited the task of bringing that attention to the students. Babiss joined soon after, and the three took action to build the group’s impact.
“As a university and especially social work students, we understand the value of group support and coming together to collaborate,” Babiss said. “And that’s really what we’re trying to do here – amplify each student’s voice by having everybody come together.”
“I think the Student Congress really was born out of this thirst for connectivity and enhanced communication between students,” Engel said. “[Then], inserting our opinions a little bit more in terms of activities that go on, student clubs, curriculum, field placement, all the different sort of facets of what it is to be a GSS student.”
And how will that connectivity fair during the COVID-19 pandemic, with all classes moving online during the fall? Babiss is optimistic looking forward, saying the use of technology will allow for easier involvement in Student Congress activities. Instead of having to come to campus for meetings, students will now be able to participate from home.
“I know some students live far away from campus, so coming in at a time that they weren’t already on campus would be very inconvenient,” she said. “So, there’s a lot of benefit to meeting online for that.”
Events and Community Drives
Babiss said the Lincoln Center Student Congress tries to do a community drive every semester. In 2019, they organized a book drive for the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation in Washington Heights, and a toiletries drive for the Henry Street Settlement House’s Women’s Shelter on the Lower East Side. The opportunity let students establish better relationships with the greater-New York City community, while also helping those in need.
More recently, the Lincoln Center Student Congress has also supported the ongoing fight against systematic racism. Engel recently moderated a panel discussion on immigration, while the Student Congress also curated and sent an email to President McShane requesting a University-wide name change of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. They are still awaiting a response.
For future events and initiatives, Student Congress wants to learn the interests of new members, and devise plans with everyone’s input.
“When I would speak to people who would email if there was an event,” Manus said, “I would always ask, ‘what are you interested in?’ ‘Do you need support in finding someone else interested in that idea?’”
Babiss also said cooperation does not limit itself to just Lincoln Center students. Plans for the fall include collaborations with the Westchester GSS Student Congress, as well as groups of students from other graduate schools, such as Fordham Law.
Student Congress Teaching Social Work Skills
The benefits of joining Student Congress do not end with community building. Students will also learn and gain experience in a variety of social work skills.
“This is a good social-work-skills learning opportunity,” said Nancy Wackstein, director of community engagement and partnerships at GSS. “Learning how to navigate systems and organizations, how to talk to people in meetings and how to run meetings, how to set up a donation drive, these are important skills.”
Wackstein oversees all Lincoln Center Student Congress activities. She went on to stress the importance of maintaining those connections you meet in school.
“People you meet in social work school, especially if you decide to stay in New York, you will run into for the rest of your careers,” she said. “And so, those relationships are really important. Networking is how you find a job, how you gain support. I’m still leaning on relationships from 40 years ago. These endure, and they’re really helpful in doing your work as a social worker.”
Importantly, those connections you meet in Student Congress will all have different skills for you to learn from. Engel noted the difference in academic track between Babiss, Manus, and herself, and how it has helped her grow as a social worker.
“Hannah’s macro-focused, Liz did the Track B combination clinical/macro practice, and I’m actually technically clinical or micro, and so we all bring different things to the table,” she said. “So, I really think involvement in Student Congress helps create a well-rounded set of skills or all student social workers for going out in the field. There are a lot of things I’ve learned through this leadership role that I really wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”
The Lincoln Center Student Congress will address all incoming students at the upcoming orientation. For more information or if you have any questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.