Rutgers School of Social Work offers many opportunities for students and faculty to come together to advocate for important issues and marginalized populations. As the LGBTQ+ community and its allies celebrate Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, one group of social work students and faculty continues to ensure members of the LGBTQ+ community are provided the support and resources they need on campus.
Social Workers Advocating for GLBTQA and Gender-Nonconforming Equal Rights (SWAGGER) is a student-run organization funded by Rutgers School of Social Work’s Graduate Student Association. SWAGGER was founded by a group of concerned students in 2010 after the death of Tyler Clementi, a gay Rutgers student who took his own life after being spied on by his roommate during a romantic encounter with another male.
“As a result of Tyler’s death, LGBT and other allied social work students at Rutgers came together and formed a group to advocate for the needs of LGBT students at Rutgers,” said Dr. Michael LaSala, founding faculty advisor of SWAGGER and Director of the Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) Program.
SWAGGER hosts monthly meetings for LGBTQ+ social work students and their allies to discuss topics such as job opportunities, and classroom and field placement experiences for LGBTQ+ social workers. SWAGGER has also hosted interdisciplinary panel discussions on a variety of topics including the history of the gay rights movement, bisexuality, transgender health, intersectionality for LGBTQ+ persons of color, and spirituality. SWAGGER has also developed a reference guide of resources for LGBTQ+ students.
According to LaSala, social workers must continue to fight for vulnerable populations such as the LGBTQ+ community by continuing to investigate the physical, social, and psychological needs of the population. The students involved in the organization shared similar thoughts.
“SWAGGER is a place to empower, motivate, and create change within our field,” said Christopher Famiglietti, a Rutgers alumnus and practicing social worker. Famiglietti was introduced to SWAGGER as a graduate student at the School of Social Work. “Within higher education, many of the organizations are tailored toward undergraduates. Having a group for all age ranges is a big strength in my opinion.”
As Pride month comes to a close, both Famiglietti and LaSala see the existence of SWAGGER as a byproduct of the Stonewall uprising.
“I’ve seen the world change since Stonewall,” LaSala said. “I have watched LGBT folks fight for and win many of their deserved rights, including the right to legally marry, and there is now a viable gay candidate running for president. But there is still more work to be done.”
Flamigietti expressed similar thoughts, highlighting the need to protect the role of gender-variant people of color, a group that was a major driving force behind the events at Stonewall.
“Trans women of color are being murdered and our government is trying to silence gender non-conforming folks,” Famiglietti said. “That is why it’s crucial to have places like SWAGGER for all folks to learn how to advocate and move forward during trying times like these.”