Clinical associate professor at the School of Social Work
19 years at Carolina
Tell us a little about your work with the School of Social Work.
My role at Carolina is as a teacher, so my purpose here is to support students — to train social workers so that they can support others. In addition to my teaching, I’m also a mental health social worker. In this role, I’ve been in a long collaboration with the Art Therapy Institute of North Carolina. The expressive arts therapies use art forms to reach any kind of therapeutic goals that people have. For example, I work with adults who have severe mental illness and might be experiencing anxiety, fear or depression. I co-facilitate a weekly mental health support group there, and our school has partnered with ATI in creating an internship for social work students.
The wonderful thing about the School of Social Work is that many of us have different interests and have found ways to bring that into the school. Working with the Art Therapy Institute is an example of that, and, in addition to our formal internship, we’ve done workshops for therapists, students and social workers about ways to bring artistic expression into mental health work.
How has your work changed since the start of the pandemic?
Students used to just stop by my office all the time, either with an appointment or just dropping in, which I loved. Now, we have to be a little more purposeful about setting up a Zoom call.
In addition, I tend to bring the expressive arts into my teaching as much as possible, so a piece that has been a little harder for me is finding workarounds for that.
For example, in the past I’ve done things like ask everybody to draw an image, lay them all out on the floor and then move their drawing next to someone else’s that they feel connected to. So I’ve had to figure out, “what is a Zoom substitute for laying all of our stuff out on the floor?” Sometimes I’ve been able to find substitutes, and other times I’ve had to hold off on activities like that.
In my work with the Art Therapy Institute, we’ve had a group going for 10 years called the Arts and Peer Support Group, and we have found that since being online, we’ve actually been able to reach some folks who weren’t able to attend face-to-face.
What was the biggest challenge in transitioning to working at home?
This has been a hard time in terms of broken connections with people, so I’ve found that I’ve really been cherishing my relationships with my colleagues. Before, we would run into each other in the hall or would be in the same office suite and could just talk to each other. But we don’t have that now, so I’ve had to be a little bit more intentional about making time to connect.
I’ve also found that if students are having mental health challenges, they are far more intense right now. It’s been challenging to try and support them over Zoom. When we first went virtual in March, I had already met all my students in person, but last semester I taught first-year students, and I never met them face-to-face. That was really challenging, wanting to be there for them and knowing that everybody is vulnerable right now.
How do you maintain a sense of community with your colleagues?
In the summer, we were doing a lot of informal get-togethers. Now, honestly, we’re doing a little bit less of that because those types of virtual gatherings have to be on Zoom. When we get to the end of the day, the last thing everybody wants to do is get on another Zoom call! So, for me, it’s been more phone conversations. I spent an hour and a half on the phone the other night with a colleague and close friend to chat about things. Supporting each other is a priority.
How are you continuing to support Carolina’s mission?
The first thing that comes to my mind is just showing up for my students. I’ve been continuing to educate myself in terms of teaching modalities. Over the summer, I and some colleagues began looking at issues of racial equity and racism in the classroom, and we have been meeting since June to do readings together and to identify ways to bring anti-racist practice into our classrooms. I feel like I’ve been supporting Carolina’s mission along those lines in terms of equity, inclusion and showing up for students.