Renison University College’s (Renison) Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program and Stonehenge Therapeutic Community in Guelph partnered to complete the first Walls to Bridges (W2B) social work course offered through the university. A student noted, “During the last four years in University, I have never had an experience like this. In my social work education, we talk a lot about the value of working WITH people rather than FOR them and I believe this course is a perfect example of putting social work code of ethics into practice.”
This innovative program was offered to students delivered in a residential treatment facility with a population of men and women suffering from chronic and acute addictions who were mostly criminal justice-involved students. Half the students in the class were justice-involved from “inside” and half were undergraduate social work students from “outside”.
Professor Alice Schmidt Hanbidge of Renison, and Cheri Bilitz, PhD student (both nationally-trained W2B leaders), co-facilitated the course where students studied as peers in a for-credit, semester-long seminar course that emphasized dialogue, problem-solving and transformative learning. Group projects with collaborative dialogue aimed to foster egalitarian and collective learning propelled students into social action in the justice and mental health systems. In examining issues of marginalization, oppression, mental health and addictions using circle pedagogy, this pilot course linked personal experience and academic learning with the power of experiential learning to facilitate deep student learning. One Stonehenge student shared, “…class left me feeling empowered to want to be part of positive change in the world around me. I cannot change the past - mine or “the way things have always been done”, but I can continue to advocate, champion and produce changes in our world. I believe that working within the system instead of against the system is the best way to create sustainable and positive changes in our society.”
Overall both inside and outside students determined that their assumptions about each other and the facilitators were rattled, as they realized that we are all more alike than different - reinforcing we can never judge a book by its cover.
Visit the Walls to Bridges website for more information.
A full gallery of photos from the W2B spring 2016 year end celebration is now posted on Renison's Facebook page.
Professor Alice Schmidt Hanbidge is an Assistant Professor with the School of Social Work at Renison