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College of Social Work

Utilizing Social Work Skills in Student Government

Nov. 12, 2019
Chris Woodley •

Social work professionals often speak in front of local, state and national legislatures to advocate on behalf of the clients they serve. This is part of the process of improving the lives of individuals, groups and communities. Two Bachelor of Social Work students are already learning how participating and representing groups in a political setting can help affect change. 

Junior Whitney Garland and sophomore Molley Jenkins are the College of Social Work senators for the University of South Carolina Student Government. The pair were both elected this past March and are two of the current 43 senators who represent and advocate for all students on campus. Student Government works closely with university administration, faculty and staff to represent the interest of students, preserve and protect the traditions of the university, and support students and student organizations in academic and community endeavors. 

“I always thought there was a space where I could create positive change and talk to people making decisions that impact our university and all students,” Garland says. “I’m excited that I can suggest some of the ideas I came up with myself or heard from others and put them into action.”

Student Government meets every Wednesday at the Russell House Senate Chambers and sponsors several events and programs throughout the academic year. For example, Stigma Free USC Week was held this past September, providing awareness to break the stigma associated with mental health. Another event later in the month offered flu shots for more than 500 students. Student Government also sponsors the Carolina Closet, which provides five items of business professional clothing with a valid Carolina Card. Next semester, the Senate will introduce the Swipe out Hunger initiative, a program where students can donate their unused meal swipes to students enduring food insecurity.    

A native of Jacksonville, Florida, Garland is using her senate position to advocate for underrepresented groups. Advocacy is a hallmark of all social workers, and she has already engaged in purposeful action that led to change. 

“I’ve already advocated for populations on campus that are underrepresented in student government, such as pregnant or parenting students and those who identify as LGBTQ,” Garland says. “When I was working on my recommendation for better resources for pregnant or parenting students, there were other senators that questioned its necessity because they did not see the need on campus. But advocacy, speaking with those in need, and talking to other senators led them to realize the scope of the issues and the bill was passed.” 

Jenkins, a sophomore from Auburn, Alabama, is already a committee chair and active in helping to improve the campus experience for all students.

“I’m chair of the inclusion and equity committee, which writes legislation and talks with deans and other administrators regarding inclusion and equity issues,” Jenkins says. “My senators are working on important student advocacy. For example, one of the senators in my committee is working on an initiative to make food lines easier for disabled students, especially those who use walkers and wheelchairs. I’m also working on a piece of legislation to provide free menstrual products in the Student Health Center for emergencies. Right now, the College of Social Work is the only building on campus where these products are available for free.”   

Garland and Jenkins want to use their positions in Student Government to help the College of Social Work with other initiatives. They plan to send a survey to undeclared students, asking them if they would be interested in studying social work and attending an information session. They are also planning tabling sessions at the college next semester to determine and discuss issues most important to students.

The College of Social Work senators both agree that their experiences in Student Government can directly be applied to their social work studies.

“I’m learning how to have healthy debates with people and more quality discussions around disagreements,” Garland says. “Advocating for my one bill was hard, so I had to learn how to talk to people and illustrate the struggles of those whom I can't directly relate to. Learning how to speak on those struggles in a way that was representative of others was difficult but interesting and enlightening.”

“It's practical experience, especially if you want to be more involved in the lobbying and advocacy side of social work,” Jenkins says. “My major gives me an upper hand because I’m learning how to advocate.  “It’s also elevated me to learn how to speak up for myself. I've always been passionate about politics, and Student Government gave me the opportunity to find a direction for myself.”  

There are currently several openings on the Student Government Senate. Interested BSW students may apply on by entering “student government” in the search box on Garnet Gate and fill out an application. Since both Senate seats for the College of Social Work are filled, social work majors selected as senators will be placed in a delegation from another college with an empty seat. 

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