School of Social Work counselor creates safe space for black voices | News from the FIU
Double alumnus Kelly Sydnor graduated with BA and MA in Social Work from the FIU in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Today, after working in the field for several years, she uses her experience to help guide students at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work. As the Student Services Coordinator, Sydnor serves as a champion for those pursuing studies by ensuring they have access to high quality experiences while learning all they can. Her efforts include co-leading the Black Social Work Student Voices Group. More than 100 black students are currently studying for degrees.
Tell us about your position at Stempel College.
My focus is on coordinating engagement opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students. I have a background in social work, and this is useful as I help students explore their career goals to help them decide if social work is really their best match. As an academic advisor for graduate programs, I work closely with our MSW and Ph.D. students to guide them through the program plan and plan for future semesters.
Overall, my goal is to make sure our students understand the career and engage with people who can help fuel their passion.
What brought you to the field?
I couldn’t find any social work. He found me, and I said “yes” to quarry. Social work is a combination of my passions. The career has allowed me to be an advocate, to understand politics and to use that knowledge in the fight for social justice, to explore people and what got them to the point that they need your help and how to use what they naturally have it inside to help them help themselves.
The field of social work has also helped me explore and understand complex issues and help people navigate them. What better choice for me! I can help humanity. Perfect match.
What was the catalyst for the creation of the Black Social Work Student Voices Group?
If you look at the African American community, historically we have had to deal with too many societal issues related to the color of our skin. 2020 has been an unprecedented year. It became the year when gout finally broke the camel’s back.
As the CRF moved into a completely remote environment, the number of COVID-19 increased and the virus disproportionately affected the black community. If you weren’t aware of the health disparities in black communities before, you certainly knew when COVID hit. The people were afraid. The future looked bleak. The same day the FIU sent employees home to start working remotely, Breonna Taylor, a black woman, was killed by the police …while she was sleeping at home. Some months later, Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, was killed while jogging. Three white men have been charged with his murder. A few days later, George Floyd was murdered by the police.
And so you decided to create a platform for the students of the FIU?
We were hurt, upset and in some cases enraged. Seeing the frequency of injustices, in addition to trying to stay safe in the midst of a pandemic, maintaining homework assignments and, for our black students, trying to stay afloat academically had become very onerous. . Keep in mind that the main goal of social work is to meet needs. Blacks were in need.
Black social work students struggled to learn how to respond to needs when their own needs seemed overlooked by society. We needed to have an outlet and a space for black students to process their feelings.
With my colleagues, Sheila Jenkins Boone, undergraduate academic advisor at the School of Social Work, and Twala Kelly, visiting assistant professor, both seasoned social workers, we decided it was time to give black students the space not only to connect and deal with us but also to connect with each other. We decided early on that the group would not be structured to feel like a classroom or workshop, but rather a safe space for cultural conversation. [The group meets monthly on Zoom.]
As Sheila says, “The community is where unity begins, flourishes and inspires genuine change in its members, who in turn can help others.
How do the students interact in the group?
We tell our stories. We support each other. We laugh a lot, yet there is seriousness. We answer the question “What can I do?” ” questions. It’s time spent looking at our problems and digging deep for ways to be part of the solutions. No hierarchy, no expectations, no possibilities. Just be.
Tywan Ajani, a first year doctoral student said, “I have been tremendously encouraged knowing that other students in my social identity group understand my cultural challenges and have similar issues.