Every semester we write our major papers, turn in our projects, give our presentations and breathe a sigh of relief. As MSW, MPH, and dual degree students, we have been working part-time jobs, going to 240-360 hours/semester of practicum, keeping up with our self-care and social life as best we can, and taking classes where we continue to engage in immense work. Often at the end of a semester, a part of me protests turning the work in — and not for the usual reasons: I’ve procrastinated, I don’t care about it, or I can’t be bothered to make the final push. No, it’s because there’s a part of turning in those papers that is like putting a trophy in the closet. We have worked ourselves and paid our bills and cried our tears. Now, the products of that work are left to become outdated on a hard drive. After the grade has been assigned, it seems like all that work stops mattering. It does not seem to matter because what we have gained is stockpiled in our mind, our brain, and will manifest later in our skills. The work is now in our mental flip book of learning. It is experience, not product.
Yet, we have produced. Now, it is my argument that it is important not to write off or forget what we did this semester: the work I’ve done reminds me how I have grown; it reminds me what I learned even on days where I felt like my internship was more exciting than the classroom; it reminds me why I chose the school I chose; and it reminds me what I can draw on for future semesters and years.
This semester, there were two group projects I was a part of that I want to share because they impacted me and because they are so completely different. They are not only different from what I am doing at practicum, they are different from each other, from my other classes, and from what I envisioned I would be doing this semester.
One group project I participated in was a 40-page policy analysis and Continuing Education workshop on the overwhelmingly overlooked issue of the legal parental rights of rapists. In 31 states, if a woman has gotten pregnant as a result of rape, her rapist can force her into a legal relationship with him through custodial rights of the child. This issue first struck me when I read about it in August in the Huffington Post. I tweeted:
Little did I know it was not so much a crazy law, as nonexistant laws, and even so, I did not actually think I was going to do anything about it. A tweet is hardly activism. Then, in my policy class, some of my peers proposed addressing the issue for our class paper and end-of-the-semester workshop. I hopped on board with the group and their idea, and this paper is what happened: The Custodial Rights of Paternal Rapists. I learned so much about the issue doing this project– most pertinently, I learned how there is so little written on the topic. We struggled to find the mere five required scholarly articles to include in the paper. Yes, there were activist sources and news articles about the topic. Yet, overall, so little unique information emerged that we then spent hours in discussion ourselves, trying to pull out and tie together our thoughts into a more comprehensive analysis of the issue. Then, when we held our workshop, individuals present there reported working with clients who were pregnant from rape. The issue was real and in the room with us. We also knew statistically that 25,000-32,000 pregnancies happen from rape each year in the United States and that seventy-three percent of these pregnancies are carried to term. Thus, we knew that a lack of information or academic writing on the topic did not mean that the issue is not happening or important. It is simply bypassed. It would not be fair to bypass the issue again by putting away the paper we wrote together away. Hopefully it contains interesting information for individuals interested in the topic and learning more about what policies do (or likely do not) exist to protect survivors of rape in this area.
The second group project was one of the most intriguing projects I’ve ever been a part of. It started as a competition in our social entrepreneurship class to pitch the best idea for a social venture. The goal was to garner peer support and gather a team to your cause. When my peer Evetty presented her idea and then stood up at the end of class to ask for team members, I quickly threw my own haphazard idea out the window. She had presented TENSE Summit, an annual youth development event already in existence in Knoxville, Tennessee. This Summit engages hundreds of young people each year in at-risk communities and situations to support, teach and encourage them toward civic engagement, leadership, and education. AJ, the founder, Skyped in with us at the end of the semester to give us a pep talk before our final presentation on our Feasibility Study. The best part was, in meeting him, I knew that this was not the end of this project. After our presentation went over, our professor encouraged us toward YouthBridge Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition, and when I told Evetty, “Do it! Do it!” She said, “If you’re behind me.” So here we are. At the end of a semester but also at the beginning — because learning does not happen in a semester. And you don’t put a trophy in a closet. If you have academic work you’re proud of, tell me about it. I bet your professor is not the only one who wants to read it.
“We want to connect students and people with information that they don’t otherwise know about. We want you to know about this car loan program, we want you to know about this license renewal program. We want to show you that it’s not over.” -AJ Donaldson, Founder of TENSE Summit