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GCSW Students Establish Radical Connections (RadCo), a Support Space for BIPOC Students

radco-2022

May 23, 2022

(HOUSTON, TX) - Recent GCSW graduate Kennedy Henderson (MSW '22) and MSW Student Erica Solis, collaborated with other GCSW students to establish Radical Connections (RadCo) a support space for BIPOC community members.

Here Kennedy and Erica share how RadCo came to be and what it hopes to provide GCSW BIPOC students and community members.

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Name: Kennedy Henderson 
Pronouns: 
she/her/hers
Graduation from the GCSW:
 May 2022

RadCo aims to provide BIPOC students with "an opportunity to connect and process the impact of racism from everyday experiences and share joy and celebrate individual and collective success." Why was it essential to establish RadCo at the CGSW?

RadCo is more of a support space than a student organization. We wanted a space to talk about how racism impacted our experiences in classes and our lives overall so that we could process complex topics. It was important not to have white folx in the space so that we didn't have to answer questions or hear them processing our realities. That's what happens in classes, and we wanted an area free from that. We also wanted to share joy. We didn't want to only talk about harm. We enjoyed having the space serve as a place where we could laugh together and have fun, and we were able to do that. 

Were there any examples of similar organizations elsewhere that inspired this student organization, and if so, how did they influence your approach?

Erica Solis had been in contact with NASW - New York State. They have affinity groups for BIPOC social workers and another one, I believe, for LGBTQ+ social workers. We connected to their executive director Dr. Samantha Fletcher, and she met with us and gave us the motivation to start RadCo. She reassured us that we could do it and didn't need to have things perfect before we started. 

Who is your social justice inspiration, and why?

Angela Davis, for sure, is my social justice inspiration. I've always looked up to her so much for her ability to tell it like it is. There's a video of her confronting a white male reporter who asked her why the Black Panthers are so violent, and her response is perfect. I'd also have to say bell hooks. I started to read her work as an undergrad, and she completely changed my perspective on my Black womanhood.

What do you hope to achieve after graduating from the GCSW?

I want to find a job, of course, but I also would like that job to be a position that allows me to show up authentically and be happy. I would love to continue anti-racism or reproductive justice work and even stay within higher education. I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing, but that's my biggest goal. 

The GCSW's vision is to achieve social justice. Can you share a moment during your time at the GCSW that impacted how you looked at achieving social justice in your career/life?

The Fall 2021 town hall was a pivotal moment. It was with the Dean and GCSW staff. That was the day that a student spoke up about the need for a space to process race-related trauma experienced in classrooms and field placements. Around that time I had heard about some students asking for a space to be able to process their experiences. Some of the other RadCo founders, such as Micki Rodríguez and Vee Ramos, had done some work the year before to establish this space. The bravery of that student speaking up gave me the courage to speak up and offer to help start RadCo. We then began to reach out to people we thought may want to be involved. That's how RadCo began. It made me realize that I don't have to have a complete plan to work on a social justice issue. I need to have an idea and some support to start the process of creating a social shift.

What is a key takeaway from your time at the GCSW?

The biggest takeaway from my time at the GCSW is that I can talk and be loud. I wasn't very talkative during the program's first year, but I blossomed in the second year. I became bolder in sharing my opinions inside and outside of classes. It has been exciting and very healing for me to see how being honest about what I feel can do. 

Anything else you would like to share?

Shout out to the RadCo founders Joyce Cochon-Agsalog, Chelsy Aledia, Erica Solis, Vee Ramos, and Micki Rodríguez! There wouldn't be a RadCo without them. Their perspectives, ideas, and contributions helped us create a healing space where BIPOC folx could show themselves authentically. I admire them all and appreciate the physical and emotional labor they put into RadCo. I am very grateful to have made RadCo happen alongside them.

_________

Name: Erica Solis
Pronouns: 
she/her/ella
Expected Graduation from the GCSW:
 August 2022

Why was it essential to establish RadCo at the CGSW?

I needed to establish this racial affinity space at the GCSW because of the trauma and harm I experienced as an undergraduate social work student. When I began my time at the GCSW, I noticed that this sort of harm was also present at the GCSW. I was shocked by this, and I began to withdraw and feel isolated and depressed. I felt alone and like an outsider. I knew I could not afford or allow these feelings to take precedence because I knew they would affect my engagement in class and grades and, as a result, would directly impact my completing the program as a First Generation Woman of Color. I began to use my advocacy skills and immediately set an appointment in 2021 to speak to Dean Dettlaff about my concerns. I mentioned wanting to have this space and sought his guidance and support. During this time, I also began to speak and build relationships with other students facing similar trauma and difficulties in the program. I knew we had to continue pushing for spaces of our own so that we could be successful not only for ourselves but also for those students coming in after us. 

Were there any examples of similar organizations elsewhere that inspired this student organization, and if so, how did they influence your approach?

There were some examples we could look to for guidance. Samantha Fletcher, Ph.D., MSW with NASW-NYS chapter had been the saving grace for me as an undergraduate. I often thought that I may not have been a good fit for social work because of the trauma I was experiencing during my undergraduate program. With no one to talk to about it, I felt like something was wrong with me or that I was crazy. I began to attend townhalls that NASWNYS was hosting, and those town halls were the seeds for our approach. They had created 'Revolutionizing the Profession: Townhalls' and panels addressing students' mental health in addition to a new initiative called the Revolution Peer Support Healing group. This group was a BIPOC-only space. When I attended, it was like I finally had other students, faculty of color, and social workers in the community with whom I could reflect on what I had been experiencing in higher education.

Here is a description of the purpose of that group:

Through Revolutionize the Profession, BIPOC social workers requested a mechanism to engage in peer support. The Town Halls are a vehicle to identify, define, and describe how racism manifests in social work practice. While White counterparts are invited to the Revolution, they do not speak. BIPOC social workers desire a space that is theirs to process daily acts of racism. The Revolution has successfully connected BIPOC social workers across the world.

Revolutionize the Profession Town Halls are facilitated discussions that provide data and context for the many ways racism exists in social work practice and education. The Revolution Peer Support Project is a space for BIPOC social workers to connect with peers and process the impact of daily racism. – Dr. Samantha Fletcher, 2021 

After attending one of the meetings, I requested to set up a meeting with Dr. Fletcher, NASWNYS student interns, GCSW students interested in advocating for racial justice, and GCSW Administrators and staff such as Amber Mollhagen, Jamie Parker, and others. After that, along with Kennedy Henderson, Chelsy Aledia, Micki Rodriguez, Veronica Ramos, and Jocyce Cebricos, we all went to work and committed ourselves to the space and mission. 

My undergraduate experience in establishing LISTA (Latinx Indigenous Student Taking Action) also influenced how we approached implementation, engagement, values, and theories that we would later identify with and pull from, such as decolonization, CRT, and LatCrit for RadCo. 

Who is your social justice inspiration, and why?

There are so many I can't name just one. Dolores Huerta, Corky Gonzales, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, James Baldwin, and right now, within the last year or so, has been Jamila Lyiscott, a Social Justice Education Scholar. My passion is in education, and all of these individuals were not only social justice warriors and trailblazers but great teachers. I often pull from these individuals in my writing, work, outreach, and research. I feel inspired hearing them, and I know I can continue to push forth in doing this work because of them and their teachings. 

What do you hope to achieve after graduating from the GCSW?

Again, my passion is racial and social justice in K-12 education and higher education. After graduating from the GCSW, my goal is to be able to use my skills, talents, and education to leave my mark in this world, which can look like many different things. I would love to sit back one day and see the fruits of my labor and be proud that I served my community well and advanced the profession of social work. Leaving a legacy behind is what I hope to achieve.

The GCSW's vision is to achieve social justice. Can you share a moment during your time at the GCSW that impacted how you looked at achieving social justice in your career/life?

The biggest takeaways that have impacted how I look at achieving social justice in my life and career has been the need for and importance of co-creation and doing so with a decolonized lens. We need to decolonize our practice to transform curriculum, pedagogical style, physical environments, safe spaces, engagement, community outreach, programming, and learning. I firmly believe one cannot speak of social or racial justice without talking about decolonization. One pivotal moment for me that deeply impacted how I looked at achieving social justice through many of the ways I mentioned above was the Student Appreciation Week Kick-Off event I was responsible for that Monday. I used a decolonized lens to help guide my approach and programming, and it was magical. It felt different, and the space was transformed and felt like home in many ways. I think students could feel that sentiment as well. 

What is a key takeaway from your time at the GCSW?

Again, there are so many! If I had to choose one, it would be the sentiment that there is always work to be done, which is a good thing in many ways. That means that we are committed to growth in mindset, knowledge, practice, beliefs, and service, and good people are willing to push with you to leave the world a better place. 

Anything else you would like to share?

I want to share the continued goal not to have RadCo be viewed as a 'student organization' but as more of a program. In a traditional student organization in institutions, you must have a certain amount of "checkboxes" one must fill with the university, such as: registering your organization, having a President, Vice President, Treasurer, Marketing/Social Media Coordinator, etc. 

In addition, in a traditional student organization, if there are no sitting students to act as leaders, then essentially, these organizations "die" or become inactive. 

I hope that RadCo never dies. As an institution committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, these holistic programs and spaces should be a part of the colleges - set in the bedrock of their overall program. The larger goal is to have the GCSW, and other colleges and universities in the state automatically provide affinity spaces for their BIPoC students as part of their said commitment to racial, social, environmental, and healing justice initiatives.