Congratulations to School of Social Work alumni Veen Wong and Rebekah Churchyard

The School of Social Work extends congratulations to Veen Wong and Rebekah Churchyard, recipients of Renison's Young Alumni Awards. The Young Alumni Award recognizes recent graduates of Renison University College who, having graduated from academic programs and/or Community and Professional Education (CAPE) programs or courses administered by the College within the past 10 years, or having lived in residence at the College for at least two terms within the past ten years, have made significant contributions to their field, either through academic achievement or service to the community.

Rebekah Churchyard completed her BSW in 2014, including a BSW practicum at the Working Centre (Field Instructor, Dori Ferr) in downtown Kitchener. She went on to complete a MSW, specializing in gerontology at the University of Toronto. Recently, Rebekah realized her longtime dream of establishing a day program for seniors rooted in agriculture. In April 2021, she founded Green Care Farms which is a social enterprise providing an agricultural program that addresses social care needs for people with dementia by hosting a day program on a farm. Their mission is to provide outdoor programs on farms for people with dementia to have responsibilities, purpose and belonging. Their vision is a green care farm for people with dementia in every community. In 2014, she founded an international organization focused on the growing global concern of dementia called World Young Leaders in Dementia. Rebekah has generously offered to support social work education at Renison by offering practicum opportunities for BSW and MSW students. Thank you and congratulations, Rebekah!

Veen Wong graduated from the MSW program at Renison University College in 2020 and is currently pursuing her PhD with the School of Public Health Sciences at the University of Waterloo. Veen has distinguished herself in both areas of service to her community and through her academic achievements. Veen demonstrated a keen interest in pursuing a field practicum with the Knowledge Development and Exchange Hub (KDE Hub), to expand her learning in the areas of mental health promotion and knowledge mobilization. In this role she worked with both KDE Hub’s team and community partners to advance project goals and strategic mission, while carving the way forward for the KDE Hub’s student field internship program too. Veen’s contributions as a Graduate Student Representative on Academic Council, as a MSW Representative on SSW Search Committees, and the MSW Representative on the Practicum Advisory Committee are only a few examples of the ways she went above and beyond in supporting and her fellow graduate students and the SSW. Well-deserved, Veen! Congratuations!


MSW Students, Sunita Lad and Ashley Doyle Co-write article with Dr. Susan Cadell and Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller

Professor Susan Cadell, faculty, School of Social Work, Renison University College, and her co-investigator, Kathy Kortes-Miller, have been published in The Conversation, Canada. It is co-written with Sunita Lad and Ashley Doyle, current MSW Students at Renison.

People should be allowed to visit, say goodbye to those who are dying during COVID-19


Black History Month

The School of Social Work invite you to read the University of Waterloo's Black History page.


The School of Social Work Stands in Solidarity with our Muslim Community Members

It is with great sadness that the School of Social Work sends this note of compassion and solidarity to our Muslim community members at Renison University College, in Waterloo Region, and beyond. The hate crime committed against, and resulting in the murder and injury of five members of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, on June 6, 2021, is disturbing and unspeakable. We join countless others in speaking out against the violence of Islamophobia. 

On June 7, 2021, BSW students participated in an anti-racism workshop titled, Unmasking Microaggressions in the Classroom: A Solidarity and Responsibilities Workshop. While the School is proud of this initiative, and recognizes such harmful actions are happening in our midst,  it is clear that as a School of Social Work, given the profession's social justice mandate, we must do better ... do more ... to continue School-wide discussions among students, staff, and faculty about the many forms of racist and xenophobic violence.

We understand racist and xenophobic violence to be underpinned by the Euro-Western construction of the superiority of a particular racial group and particular religious tradition or belief system resulting to the dehumanization (sub-humanization) of the “other.” We must mobilize our commitment to anti-racist actions to name and respond to the violence of Islamophobia. We must demand action from our local, provincial, and federal political leaders to ensure the safety of Muslim people in Canada by taking seriously the threat and harm of right-wing ideology and activation of Islamophobia for rhetorical political purposes. 


MSW Students Present at CASWE Conference – June 1 – 3, 2021

Shane Clarke, with co-host, Laurel Pirrie will present, Quiet Down! The Disruptive Queer Podcast.

What does it mean to be a queer/trans/GNC MSW student and not see our identities reflected in our cohort, course material, or educational experience? How are we creating our own learning and how are we teaching ourselves and others? What is missing and how are we filling in the gaps for ourselves?

In an effort to queer our collective social work education experience and find connection to my community with the intention of creating accessible moments of learning for the predominantly cisgender heteronormative student body, I invite queer, trans and gender nonconforming MSW, BSW and alumni to participate in a podcast with me. We join together from across the country through the power of virtual meeting technology, which has become ubiquitous in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the course of three months, our small groups will meet to talk about our experiences as gender and sexual minority students in both the virtual classroom and the field placement setting.  In an act of resistance against erasure and disconnection and drawing on the rich history of the queer dinner party, we will connect over food and drinks (virtually) to fall, gratefully, into each other’s queerness in an effort to find our place in a cisgender, heteronormative online distance education program in which visibility is an issue for any minority. This presentation will present a 15-minute audio selection from those dinner parties.

Developing and presenting this podcast project is a process that parallels engaging in online learning spaces within university programs, albeit it with much less formality and much more risk-taking. We want to ask ourselves the questions that our professors and classmates are not asking us, but to do so publicly means we must first find each other and then assess our relative safety to ‘out’ ourselves both as queers and queer students currently enrolled in an MSW program. ‘Consenting to learn in public’, that is, to offer our imperfect reflections on permanent and public record bound to a moment in time, requires vulnerability, bravery, and a commitment to growth – a stance that MSW online education programs ask us to take but which is not named or considered in our experience.

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Catherine Guzik is co-presenting, Digital Storytelling and Decolonizing Practice with Inuit Youth, with Dr. Trish Van Katwyk.

The presenters for this submission are two Settler social workers: an MSW student and an MSW placement supervisor.  In this presentation we will be paying close critical attention to decolonizing engagement practices that need to happen in Settler social worker and Inuit youth relationships.

We were recently involved in a digital storytelling project with 8 Inuit youth from three different Nunavut communities.   We reached out to the Nunavut community and Inuit youth and received funds to support digital storytelling creation for the youth. These funds paid for equipment, space rental, professional training in film production, childcare, Elder support, and other costs related to the creation of digital stories.  Two of the digital stories were done in the Inuit language of Inuktitut.

Most of the digital storytelling project was conducted virtually due to COVID restrictions and the isolated nature of the Northern communities.  The social workers used virtual platforms to meet and engage with the youth since neither social worker lives in the same communities as the youth.  Film production training was conducted in-person for two of the communities and virtually in the third through a local film producer.

This research will be presented in two parts using the short film/video format.  The two parts of the story will be structured as follows:

  1. A brief description and history of the project
    • What is a digital story?
    • What was the community engagement process?
    • What did the youth create for their digital stories?
  1. A description of the autoethnographic research study based on the project
    • What is critical autoethnography and critical collective autoethnography?
    • How can this research be used to study our own conduct, biases, colonized training, and Settler privileges in the context of relationships?
    • How can this research be used to inform decolonizing social work practice?

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Cynthia Benoit, Catherine Bracken, Vikki Healey, Amanda Lougheed, and Heather Van Kerkhoven, are co-presenting, Harnessing the Power of Group Peer Review for Graduate Field Education, with Dr. Susan Cadell.

Graduate education in social work requires a knowledge of searching and evaluation of literature.  Master of social work students are often encouraged to publish but it is a relatively rare practice.

The submission and peer review aspects of publishing remain an opaque process to those who have not undertaken them. The requirements for the peer review process are not generally taught in graduate programs. Yet there is much to be learned from the experience of evaluating manuscripts.

Group peer review of journal submissions is gaining attention as a new approach to a formerly secretive process. An additional recent development is the advent of reviews being published online in a conjunction with the manuscript. Both of these contribute to disrupting the secrecy in the process. To our knowledge, it group peer review has not been done in social work field placements before.

We, the co-authors, are one professor of Social Work and four MSW students, all of whom are doing virtual research-focused field placements. Based on a model of group peer review with an appreciative inquiry focus (Macdonald et al., 2021), the five of us undertook a group peer review process on a topic related to an area of common interest.

This podcast will review relevant literature, feature a framework for undertaking the work and present reflections from each of us on what we gained from the experience.

This practice has implications for innovations in social work field education.

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Catherine Bracken and Paula Crockford, are co-presenting, Collaborative Peer-mentorship for Virtual Field Placements.

Virtual social work learning and employment are on the rise (Reamer, 2019); the upsurge has been hastened by COVID-19 direct practice restrictions. Despite a rapid, sometimes chaotic, immersion into the ‘virtual world’, the pandemic is providing new opportunities for Master of Social Work (MSW) candidates to complete field education practicums in social research facilitated by faculty in 2020-2021. In spite of genuine intentions, students, faculty-field instructors, and field education coordinators experienced challenges in navigating research placements in this unknown remote atmosphere, due to a lack of best-practice guidelines and established structure. Additionally, social isolation of COVID-19 coupled with ‘non-traditional’ research placements students were feeling anxious and unprepared (Flanagan & Wilson, 2018).

In response, we are two MSW students who proposed a Remote Research Student Practicum Network (RRSPN) at Renison University College. We aimed to foster connection and collaboration through peer mentorship. University social work faculty and staff promoted our student-led initiative through email and the online education portal, while we promoted it through our internal social media. The RRSPN group was established in October 2019. Bi-weekly discussions are student-centered (Lorenzetti et al., 2019; Vassos et al., 2019) and focus on equitable knowledge exchange (Baikie, as cited in Sinclair, 2009). Shared learning has occurred regarding research ethics, methodology, educational theory to practicum-practice, and practicum learning to employment. Members have reflected that virtual peer mentorship has alleviated anxieties regarding social research, has been helpful to facilitate their overall learning, and aided to help formulate student-identities as researchers.

Our presentation will highlight the gaps in the literature as it pertains for peer mentorship in social work graduate education and virtual learning. It will include a short film of RRSPN member impact statements and discussion highlighting strengths and lessons learned from our peer mentorship initiative. Our desire is that this online student-led innovation will become a standard of practice at our institution to help graduate students connect, support, and learn from each other as they journey through their MSW placement experience. This work has important implications for field education beyond our own program.

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Paula Crockford, is co-presenting, Storying Neurodiversity: Critical Reflections Through Field Education, with Sarah Leo (BA Candidate Renison University College) and Dr. Meg Gibson.

While neurodiversity as a term and concept has been in use for over two decades (Singer, 1998), it has recently come into ascendency in the mainstream. Neurodiversity is usually connected to support for autistic activism and other disability rights, a rejection of medical frameworks and pathologizing practices, and a valuing of difference (Nerenberg, 2020; Walker, 2014). At the same time, there are ongoing disagreements over the scope, focus, and impact of neurodiversity. Who, exactly, does it encompass? What, exactly, does it propose – or demand?

This abstract is part of a larger project in which differently-situated participants reflected on the meaning and significance of neurodiversity. While neurodiversity as a term may be discussed in some education and social work settings, project participants highlighted an urgent need for alternatives to colonial, deficit-based frameworks across these spaces. Social work education is a domain where some students and instructors continue to experience normative and ableist barriers, even as it is simultaneously a space for learning about and through social justice. In order to address social work’s complicity in colonialism, we need to unsettle power and challenge systems that define so many primarily in terms of symptom, deficit, and intervention (Baskin, 2011; Sinclair et al., 2017).

Personal accounts and digital stories offer possible ways to introduce and expand on new understandings (Hyatt et al., 2018). Our presentation will consist of a digital story (short film) and a critical reflective podcast discussion between two students (MSW and BA candidates) and a faculty member/field instructor. The conversation will be framed across themes depicted in Neurodiversity: Val-You-Able?, produced by the lead presenter, based on her field placement experience with the project. The podcast discusses ways in which ideas of human value can be expanded upon and re-configured as a part of decolonizing what “equity” can mean in learning and practice. It also considers how research practices themselves, invite a questioning of colonial frames and practices, building opportunities for collaborative learning (Allan et al., 2019; Kapp, 2011), mutual exchange, and the valuing of different contributions (Ermine, 2007). Keywords: neurodiversity; arts-informed research; decolonizing field education.