Playing Favorites: VCU Undervalues School of Social Work 

Edwin Slipek Jr.'s article detailing Virginia Commonwealth University's expansion into Monroe Ward paints a poetic positive picture of VCU and the treatment of students ("Breaking Boundaries," Cover Story, Feb. 27). Details about comfy club chairs, atriums full of sunlight and beautiful architecture show what a wonderful learning environment VCU has provided for students. However, over 200 social work undergraduates and graduate students are experiencing a different side of VCU.

Dr. Eugene Trani's work in creating a new campus will greatly benefit certain VCU students, but is no more than a cruel taunt to others. The School of Social Work, which resides in the Raleigh building on West Franklin Street, was established in 1917 and helped to create VCU. U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked the social work graduate program in the top 15 in the nation and boasts the largest graduate program on campus. Despite all of this, its learning environment is vastly different from other programs and from the student experiences portrayed in the article.

In the Raleigh building, students are crammed into any space that can hold a table and chair, which forces some students to sit with their backs to the teacher in order to use a desk. I doubt if the dentistry students, who are enjoying a third new building, have ever had their backs to the teacher while learning to pull a tooth. Many of the classrooms have load-bearing columns running through them, often blocking the teacher, whiteboard or projector screen from the students' view. Ever heard of a chemistry major unable to ask a question because the teacher couldn't see him?

What about having the resources we need to become skilled at our profession? We learn much of our profession by participating in group work, role-plays and presentations, but most of our classrooms do not have the space for these activities. I find this educational disparity demeaning when I consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment the mass communication students have access to for their classes. But maybe tools specific to an undervalued profession like social work are too much to ask for.

So how about basic classroom requirements like black/whiteboards, permanent chairs (as opposed to metal folding chairs), heat or air and a clean environment? I can't imagine science majors shivering through classes wearing hats, scarves and gloves all winter or engineering majors sitting through six hours' worth of classes on metal folding chairs in a moldy basement. Yet social work students endure all of this while the pleas for a new building or renovations are ignored.

The examples could go on, but why bother. A quick glance around our facilities compared to the rest of the university is enough to show how unimportant VCU considers the School of Social Work and its students. I am interested in knowing what it will take for Dr. Trani and other administrators to treat social work students with the same respect that is handed out so easily to other students, because right now, Dr. Trani's feelings are pretty clear … we are only worth a metal folding chair in a dirty, moldy basement.

Kate Lamberta
Graduate Student
VCU School of Social Work

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