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Professors to serve on national environmental justice task force

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) has appointed two SVSU social work professors to a national task force focusing on environmental justice.

Catherine Macomber, the social work department chair, nominated herself and colleague Chris Fike. She said the task force will address the environmental justice standards CSWE introduced in 2015.

The accreditation body chose 50 social workers from across the nation for the task force, but only three were from Michigan. Two were from SVSU, and one was from Michigan State University.

Fike said two of those professionals were from SVSU because of its ties to the Flint water crisis.

“People at SVSU are maybe a little more attuned to what’s going on because of the impact (the Flint water crisis) has had in our community,” he said.

Macomber said she was interested in the task force because it helps bridge the gap between social work and environmental justice. She said social workers need to address environmental issues before they can address social issues.

“I can’t be out there helping people have a better life if they’re coughing or sick because their environment is terrible or because there’s no land to live on,” she said. “So, it only makes sense that
I should be interested in making the world a better place from both the human angle and from the environmental angle.”

Fike said his background in environmental justice made him a good fit for the task force.

“I’m on a sustainability committee for another organization specifically for undergraduate education,” he said. “In a couple weeks, I will be presenting at the National Association of Social Workers Conference here in Michigan on how to integrate environmental justice into social work practice.”

Macomber wants to make SVSU a hub for environmental teaching. She sees the task force as a way to help accomplish that goal.

“It’s important for students to recognize what their impact is and how they can do something about it,” she said.

She said social work students can use the new curriculum Fike and herself will help shape to understand their roles not only as social workers, but as environmental justice advocates.

“Social workers are capacity builders. It’s what we do,” she said. “We help individual people build their capacity so they can say, ‘All right, maybe the glass isn’t half-full, but do you know that the glass is refillable?’”

Fike sees the task force as a way to help create more environmental activism at SVSU.

“As much as I talk about the need to do something and acknowledge it, I think we need to do more on campus,” he said.

He said SVSU has an “investment and responsibility” to act on local environmental issues, including the Flint water crisis.

“This task force and new curricula may give us the opportunity to start a conversation, continue having that conversation and actually move toward some meaningful action,” he said.

Macomber said she was honored to impact change in her field with Fike.

“I’m so excited that I get to do this with a colleague,” she said. “I think it would be hard if I were just here by myself trying to think about these things in a vacuum.”

The task force begins Sept. 16 and is targeted to end in August 2020.

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