October 15, 2021
(HOUSTON, TX) - PhD Students Gaby Mohr (left) and Gabrielle Aquino-Adriatico* (right) have been selected to serve as fellows for the Council of Social Work Education's Minority Fellowship Program.
The purpose of the fellowship is "to reduce health disparities and improve health-care outcomes of racially and ethnically diverse populations by increasing the number of culturally competent behavioral health professionals with doctoral degrees available to underserved populations in the public and private nonprofit sectors."
We spoke to Gaby Mohr about why programs like this are critical to underrepresented communities and the importance of macro social work at the policy level.
Name: Gaby Mohr
Congrats on being named a Minority Doctoral Fellow by CSWE. What will this opportunity provide you with that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise?
Thank you! I'm very excited because there's a lot of support and training that the fellowship provides. I am interested in policy and the macro impacts of practical research. But yes, I'm looking forward to the training and implementing new skills into my research development. I'm also looking forward to having more experiences and opportunities to learn more about research on a large scale. I wish more fellowships had this focus so that more students could have this opportunity.
The primary mission of the MFDF Program is to train individuals to work with underrepresented racial and ethnic communities. Why do you believe such a mission is important?
My area of focus is drug policy. The research consistently shows that Black, indigenous, and people of color are the populations that have been historically the most impacted by drug policies, especially the history of the war on drugs. The effects of these policies are still with us today. So I'm interested in the legalization of marijuana. Many states have talked about how this legalization will help undo the damage done to these minority communities, but I'm not sure that it has. Taken at face value, these policies are significant but are they helping those on the ground? This fellowship allows us to conduct more research so that we can know the effects of these policies. I hope to learn what is exactly happening and then seek a solution. I'm passionate about seeing things through a macro lens and how looking at things from a policy perspective can effectively change systems. I believe this top-down approach is effective in better understanding and delivering effective therapy, rehab, excessive and racially derived prison sentences for people who use substances, and the prison industrial complex.
What drew you to continue your education at the GCSW?
My roots are from Arizona, but I came here from Colorado. I did my master's at the University of Denver, working there for almost six years in Denver. I was interested in Houston, especially the GCSW, because there's a Policy Research Center which I thought would be great with my interest in drug policy. There are also a few faculty members who have done fantastic work in drug policy. I wanted to move to Houston because it's so diverse. Colorado is an extremely White state. The kind of research that I want to do and that I'm interested in impacts minority communities. Houston is the perfect place to be exposed to that, especially with the guidance of faculty.
Since you began your PhD Education, things have drastically changed in terms of how academics are delivered. What has been a highlight of your time at the GCSW thus far?
The relationships I have built within my cohort. I love my cohort, and I cannot say enough. I feel so lucky because we are so tight, even when we weren't meeting in person. They have been so supportive of me and my journey of becoming a mom. My partner and I don't have family here in Houston, so it has been amazing how my cohort has supported me. I can tell that they are going to be my friends for life.
What initially interested you to take your first steps into the field of social work?
I got my undergrad at the University of Arizona in communications, and I wanted to be an immigration lawyer. I'm from Tucson, and it's close to the border. Being of mixed ethnicity, I saw the differences in the treatment of my white family versus my Mexican family at a very early age. Around that time in Arizona, two policies came out: SB1070, which was the "show me your proof of citizenship" law. The other one was the banning of ethnic studies because many claimed that it creates "reverse racism." Up until that point, I had never really seen blatant racism at the policy level. A friend of mine convinced me to look into social work since I wanted to respond to these laws. When I began to look into social work, I saw so many avenues to go down when responding to social injustices at the policy level.
Those Arizona laws empowered me to apply for my Master's at Denver University with an emphasis on macro social work and Latino social work, which many do not often offer. It's wild how certain things impact your life when looking back.
The mission of the GCSW is to achieve social justice at every level. Is there anything about that that resonates with you and your experience? Why?
The mission of the GCSW resonates strongly with me, especially since a lot of the work I hope to do is in drug policy. Drug policies impact marginalized communities all over the world. These policies are often created by those in positions of power who have little to no interaction with these communities. Seeing the effects of these laws and policies should reflect the will of the communities which they impact the most.
Who is someone that inspires you and why?
I worked for a long time in education, and the greatest inspiration was watching young people better understand their histories. Working at the community level and watching communities grow and work together is endlessly inspiring.
*Gabrielle Aquino-Adriatico, who was also selected for the fellowship, recently presented "Keeping it 100: Innovative Ways to Combat Racism in Social Work Education" for the Social Work, White Supremacy, and Racial Justice Symposium. Read more about her work here.
In 2020, Gabrielle was named to the CSWE Minority Fellowship. Read more about her experiences and goals for the program here.