November 18, 2008

SSA looks toward next century of social outreach challenges

[img id="77029" align="alignleft"] For Chicago Sun-Times editorial page editor Thomas McNamee (A.M. ’82), the School of Social Service Administration (SSA) remains familiar 26 years after he earned his degree there.

“I don’t think I’ve been back to the SSA since 1982, and it still looks like an auto showroom,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd of a few hundred at the opening celebration of the SSA’s centennial on Friday night.

McNamee served as the emcee for the festivities, which also featured speeches by SSA Dean Jeanne Marsh and University President Robert Zimmer. The centennial events gave the opportunity for current SSA students, faculty, and alumni to mingle and reminisce over the School’s history, and to look to its future as well.

Marsh’s speech highlighted important aspects of SSA’s history; she named pioneers such as former Dean Edith Abbott, who worked with Jane Addams at Hull House, and former Dean Sophonisba Breckenridge, the first woman to graduate from the Law School.

She also touched on SSA’s plans for the future.

“Today SSA is ranked as a top graduate school of social work in the country, and when we build our new building, we will be the top school,” Marsh said.

Speeches were generally reflective, but lighthearted. Zimmer began his speech saying, “A hundred years is a long time, even if Jeanne has been here almost a third of that time.”

Zimmer reflected on the SSA’s dual role within the University as both a research institution and a center for community outreach.

“The training of the students here of course involves a deep commitment to fieldwork, and that means our students have been active in the city for 100 years,” he said. “The SSA has been deeply committed to the more vulnerable citizens of the South Side and the city as a whole.”

Court Theatre performed a reenactment of important events in the SSA’s history. Miriam Reitz (A.M. ’62, Ph.D. ’82) said she enjoyed the performance, which featured one of her former teachers, Charlotte Towle.

“I was lucky to have taken one of her classes,” Reitz said. “I couldn’t get into her class as a masters student, and I was very disappointed, so I had to come back for my Ph.D.”

Reitz also welcomed the chance to connect with the current generation of SSA students.

“I talked to three of the graduate students earlier this evening,” Reitz said. “It’s been very nice.”

Yelene Modley, a third-year SSA student who also serves as an assistant director for the Neighborhood Schools Program, agreed that the opportunity to mingle was a valuable one.

“I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people—that’s something the SSA in general is great at, not just during the centennial,” she said. “They’re always giving opportunities to meet people and to network with people that have programs like we have.”

Modley also appreciated Zimmer’s attendance of the celebration, saying that it made her feel better connected to the rest of the University.

“It’s always good to see them merging both sides of the Midway,” she said.

Though the opening celebration had a mainly congratulatory and reflective tone, other centennial events were more forward-looking. On Saturday, a symposium titled “Into the Second Century: Continuing SSA’s Tradition of Improving Urban Education” was held to discuss ways to improve the success of urban students.

A few hours prior to the opening celebration on Friday, Dr. William Schultz (A.M. ’74), executive director emeritus of Amnesty International, gave a lecture discussing his new book The Future of Human Rights: U.S. Policy for a New Era.

Schultz discussed the need for America to reclaim its reputation in human rights, which he saw as tarnished by the Bush administration.

“At the most fundamental level, we need to honor our global neighbors once again,” Schultz said. “If we fail to do that, we cannot hope to reclaim the mantle of human rights leadership because after all, international human rights has no meaning without the imprimatur of the international community.”

Bruce Thao, a first-year in the doctoral program, found Schultz’s words encouraging.

“He has such a deep knowledge of the history of human rights—both the U.S.’s positive and negative contributions to human rights—and how we can fix things in the future,” Thao said. “That’s really inspiring to us as students.”