Bobby Bennett is in his second year of UNE’s MSW on campus program. He was recently granted the 2020 Charlene B. Rydell Scholarship, which was established in memory of Charlene Rydell, HON ’95, who dedicated much of her life to community activism and promoting social equity and justice.
Past Rydell Recipients:
A little about Bobby:
Bobby studied sculpture and public engagement at Maine College of Art and Design (MECA). He has always wanted to use his art for social change but feared that without proper training, he might unintentionally exploit the very populations he wants to serve. This played a major role in his decision to pursue social work. “To me, it’s all about creating visibility for vulnerable populations, and I think it’s so important to be incredibly sensitive- these are people’s real lives.” The Applied Arts and Social Justice Certificate is what initially drew him to the program. “It makes so much sense to me to combine social work with socially engaged art. Alongside creating art to address important social justice issues, as social workers, we’re learning how to implement skills, values, and principles in order that we don’t exploit individuals in the process.” Though it was the Art and Social Justice Certificate that initially lured Bobby, he’s now pursuing the Trauma certificate. “That’s part of what makes this program so great” he shares, “there are so many good options!”
Visit Bobby’s website HERE to view his artwork
Why is it important to understand trauma?
“I think a trauma informed approach is so fundamentally important to social work- to ask ‘what happened’ and not ‘what’s wrong’” shares Bobby. “We live in a world where almost everyone has experienced some form of trauma. I think it’s important for providers, clinicians, and anyone really, to be aware of what someone is bringing with them- to avoid re-traumatizing. As social workers, we need to create safe spaces, and at an organizational level, if an individual knows an organization is trauma informed (i.e. abiding by those trauma-informed pillars of safety, trust, empowerment, cultural responsivity/intersectionality, collaboration, and choice), they can feel safe to share their true stories. They can trust the organization will do its best to truly support them.”
Read our Mental Health and COVID-19 Series: Managing Stress and Cultivating Emotional Resiliency post to learn more about Trauma-Informed Social Work practice
Blending art and social work through field practicum:
Bobby did his foundation year placement at Maine Inside Out (MIO) a nonprofit organization that works with incarcerated youth to create and perform poignant theater about their experiences. Bobby co-facilitated groups and helped out with performances (among other duties). Some performances have a traditional story arc, while others blended poetry with cold, hard facts. Bobby shared that despite their shape, each piece was powerful and insightful. Following Friere pedagogical theories of learning, MIO’s objective is to improve the overall outcomes for youth who are returning home after incarceration (Long Creek Youth Development Center).
They achieve this through creative collaboration, meaningful community engagement, peer and adult support, participant-led advocacy, leadership development and practical skill-building. The plays are also a way to call attention to the many injustices that exist within the juvenile justice system. The play Bobby was involved with was performed for the juvenile justice task force, for example. “We had lively discussion around the use of resources in the community, policies, and how to focus more on prevention rather than incarceration.”
“My classes at UNE, and learning about trauma informed care in particular, has completely changed the way I’ll practice as a professional. It’s really opened my eyes and feels essential to being a social worker. Motivational interviewing and solution focused brief therapy has as well, alongside skills like reflective listening and OARS (open ended questions, reflective listening affirmations and summarizing). These things will be part of my practice forever.”
Bobby cultivated new interest in policy as part of his studies at UNE as well. “I didn’t really have much interest in policy at all before coming to the program. This completely changed after taking Dr. Frank Brook’s course.” As part of Dr. Brook’s policy course, students are required to follow an LD throughout the semester. Bobby followed LD1108, the resolve to establish the Task Force on Alternatives to Incarceration for Maine Youth. “It was perfect given my work at Maine Inside Out. It opened my eyes to how important policy is and the profound impact it can play in people’s lives.” UNE’s curriculum is designed such that students learn research-informed theories and practices in classrooms that they can then begin applying immediately in their field practicums while receiving constructive feedback. Bobby’s comments about his field experience reflect this, “I got groups experience, community experience, policy experience… I was able to see what happens when all this comes together, and to witness what it’s like to truly advocate, engage with the community and fight for change when it’s impacting people’s real lives. It was truly eye-opening.”
“This is the hardest question, I think. I’m still learning so much about what a social worker can even be. UNE has been so great to show me what’s possible. I know I will find ways to fold art into my practice and Maine Inside Out has given me an incredible model to do so. My hope is that my work and job can align with my personal values of creativity, passion, empathy, connection, and supporting others. Getting an MSW opens so many more opportunities than just my undergrad did, to work in positions that better align with these values. At this point, I just know I don’t want to close myself off to any opportunity or experience.”
Words of wisdom:
“If I were to advise incoming students I’d encourage them to lean in with curiosity and take the leap. I was not certain about my path when I decided to become a social worker, and I still have many questions, but I am leaning in with curiosity and opening myself to whatever experiences come my way. Change is and will always be scary, but that’s okay. Go for it!”