What Role Can Social Work Play in Post-Election America, and What Tools Do Social Workers Have For Addressing Today’s Challenges?

December 21, 2016 @ 11:30 pm

In an online event held on December 16, 2016, Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW) student Nick Baitoo (MSW’17) and John Robertson, a professor of policy and advocacy, discussed the challenges social workers and their clients may face as a result of imminent changes in Washington, D.C., and the tools that social workers can use to speak for their clients collectively and build an effective coalition on behalf of social justice.

Watch the event here:

Related resources:

  • Slide deck from the event (PDF: 27 pages)
  • Resources recommended by presenters and attendees (MS Doc: 3 Pages)


The day after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, students, administrators, and faculty at Columbia University’s School of Social Work gathered to discuss the implications of the election outcome for the social work profession. Nick Baitoo, a second year student focusing on Advanced Clinical Studies, communicated his thoughts about the vulnerabilities of Middle Eastern Americans and the LGBTQ community, two groups to which he belongs (he is the son of Iranian immigrant parents). He also spoke with eloquence about the creativity and resourcefulness of social workers in overcoming challenges—words that ultimately inspired the event that took place online on December 16, for which over 700 people registered.

On that day Baitoo was joined by professor of policy and advocacy at CSSW, John Robertson, who outlined the tools social workers have for addressing pressing social issues: how does a social worker move from case to cause?

In response to questions posed by Communications Director Mary-Lea Cox Awanohara, Baitoo said that while he studies clinical practice, the field of social work is never far removed from considerations of social policy and the need for advocacy. Even if a social worker has chosen to work with clients individually, that social worker will notice patterns that puts them in a position to make policy recommendations about how to remove barriers to treatment for a group of vulnerable individuals. Baitoo offered the examples of homeless youth and the LGBTQ community, which are the two populations he has worked with the most, both before coming to social work school and in his practicum placements.

Prof. Robertson, who teaches Policy and Advocacy, has spent the last 35 years focusing on elder care, treatment of substance abusers, and reentry programs for inmates. During his solo portion of the online event, he provided an overview of the SPEAK OUT method for advocacy, developed by fellow CSSW Professor Michael Friedman.

The event culminated with a discussion between Baitoo and Robertson, along with many audience members, about (among other topics):

  1. What prevents someone from taking action;
  2. What are the first steps a person can take toward advocacy;
  3. How social workers can organize across the political aisle.

Over 200 people, all with different backgrounds and relationships to the social work profession, attended the live event, and about half of the audience stayed stayed well past the end of the event to continue the discussion. We offer thanks to the presenters, the online team, and the lively audience for making this such a successful event. It may have been an online event, but there was a palpable feeling of passion and enthusiasm for making a difference.

The event was sponsored by CSSW’s Online Campus. The next deadline for applications is February 1, 2017. Get information here.

Check out the other events in the CSSW’s Online Event Series: