Winter 2022

Professor’s Lesson Helped Change National Policy

It’s amazing what one can achieve as a social worker in Washington, D.C.

As a government relations person (yes, a lobbyist) I’ve been able to obtain policy that has helped thousands of low-income, non-English-speaking workers to feed their families by successfully urging Congress to require translations for food stamp applicants.

I have helped to gain recognition (i.e., the ability to be reimbursed) for social work. As the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye said in the March 14, 1997 Congressional Record: “When Sue first began representing the interests of social workers before the U.S. Congress, very few federal statutes directly acknowledged the significant role of professional social workers in providing health, mental health, and counseling services. Now, however, through Sue’s able leadership all federal insurance programs that authorize the provision of mental health care services, including … recognize the ability of clinical social workers to independently diagnose and treat mental illness.“ Sue Hoechstetter

More recently, I’ve taught nonprofits throughout the country how to be stronger advocates for the causes they represent by developing and teaching an innovative advocacy curriculum.

This is not to congratulate myself, as I didn’t do any of it alone. My colleagues at the National Association of Farmworkers Organizations, the National Association of Social Workers, and Alliance for Justice collaborated with me and supported me in the work. But I played an important role. 

Pitt’s School of Social Work also played an important role. One meaningful lesson I learned there came from a class exercise. The professor, whose name I cannot remember, asked us what we would do in a situation where there has been a shipwreck and the 12 surviving passengers are in the only lifeboat, a boat that holds only 11 people without sinking. How would we decide who would be kicked out of the boat and left to die? My classmates and I tried to figure out a fair system, but the professor startled us by saying that all of our ideas were wrong. We didn’t have to accept his premise that someone had to die; we needed to come up with another solution. Perhaps it would be people taking turns holding onto the lifeboat in the water.

That lesson of thinking outside the box has always stayed with me and helped me to become successful. Working on social policy in Washington provides me with many opportunities to think creatively, and I like to think that my professor would be proud of me for putting his wisdom into action.