By Sara Doyle
Following a 2007 report from the Council of Social Work Education, the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work (GSSW) established the Latino Leadership Initiative (LLI) last year. The report, which found that social workers were unprepared to handle the rapidly growing Latino demographic, prompted the School of Social Work to develop a way to better prepare students to handle this growing demographic. The program, which is part of the Masters in Social Work program, is designed to prepare students going into social work to work with a diverse population.
The LLI approaches this task by expanding both the language competency and the cultural understanding of students so they will be able to work effectively with Latino communities, both within the U.S. and abroad. Students enrolled in the program take courses designed to help them develop a better understanding of the needs of their Latino clients. While some courses in the program are offered in English, others are offered in Spanish in order to help students communicate about current cultural issues effectively in the native language of their clients.
Assistant professor Rocio Calvo is a native of Spain, worked in Latin America before joining the GSSW, and has conducted research on the incorporation of immigrants. In 2012, she taught one of the first twoLLI courses offered in Spanish, Diversity and Cross Cultural Issues. Her particular interest is in the factors contributing to the success of Latino immigrants in their receptive societies.
“Research shows that Latinos do not have the best experiences dealing with social services,” Calvo said. “The LLI prepares future social workers to become aware of this reality and provides them with specific tools to ensure that they empower their clients.”
The administration and faculty have noted that, in the not-so-distant future, current minority groups will make up most of the U.S. population, and the Latino population is expected to be the predominant group. Calvo believes that being able to communicate with Latino clients in Spanish is an important skill that graduate students will find deepens the ability to empathize and understand the clients.
Nate Radomski, GSSW ’14, has been involved with the LLI since its inception last year. Radomski had lived in Spain for three years and worked in Ecuador, and has found that the program addresses both the language barrier and the more complicated issues associated with effective cross-cultural communication.
“The courses have been really fundamental in shaping my cultural understanding,” Radomski said. “There’s this myth that if you speak Spanish or you are Latino, you can automatically work with Latinos, and that’s not true. The mistake we often make is assuming that Latinos are just one big group. There are some similarities, but it’s more complicated than that.”
Radomski has also done research with Calvo, studying immigrant populations in Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, and Madrid to learn more about their experiences with social services.
“It’s been extremely interesting to see their viewpoints and their experiences,” he said. “There’s a misconception that Latinos want to come and take jobs and stay here for life. Most Latinos want to make money and go back to their country of origin. However, most of them come here, and they’re stuck.”
Radomski recalls a saying that Calvo taught in the classroom. “‘It’s like the air we breathe,’” he said. “‘You can’t stop breathing, but you can filter it.’ We need to be reflective with our biases and how they affect the way we work with different populations.”
According to Radomski, the LLI has shaped the way he views working with Latino populations and has prepared him for working in social services in invaluable ways, even allowing him to reflect on his past experiences.
“Coming into the program, I felt fairly confident working with Latinos, but I don’t necessarily know that I had the words or the academic understanding, and certainly not the tools,” he said. “You start to look back on experiences you had and say ‘Oh, that’s why that happened that way.’ I look back on it now, and I would have made a totally different decision.”
Calvo said that she has found that not only the individual students, but the community of Boston College has benefited from the LLI since its inception.
“I think the initiative benefits the BC community because it has increased the diversity of our student population, as it is attracting Latino and Latina students as well as students that have worked with Latino populations to our program,” Calvo said. “This has been very enriching for us.”
Originally published in The Heights.