By Samuel Leibowitz-Lord ‘21
Since its founding, Rutgers School of Social Work has provided fertile ground for innovative minds to bring new and revolutionary ideas to the field. Gerald Amada ‘62 has carved out a space for himself as a powerful voice in social work, having published 12 books and spoken at over 150 college and university conferences. Much of his research, largely regarded as the first of its kind, focuses on how college administrators and professors can appropriately deal with disruptive college students. His career is a testament to the pioneering spirit of those students who have attended the Rutgers School of Social Work.
Amada’s journey to the field of social work began in 1960. Working at a summer camp and unsure of what to do next, Amada saw a poster about careers in social work. The director of the summer camp, a social worker himself, helped Amada set up an interview at Rutgers School of Social Work. Amada was admitted a week before classes started that year.
While at the Rutgers School of Social Work, Amada found both his passion for the field as well as for his late wife, then Marcia Hirshberg. “My experiences were very much shaped and enriched by Marcia,” Amada recounts. “I met her the first day at orientation. We were at the bookstore, and I had forgotten to carry enough cash to purchase my newly-assigned books. Marcia loaned me the needed cash, and we almost immediately became close friends after that. She was my primary source of support, encouragement, and kindness throughout my two years at the School.”
After graduating, Amada worked at a state mental health clinic in Trenton that was soon thereafter incorporated into Trenton State Hospital. Two years later, he accepted a position with a Jewish children’s agency in San Francisco. Marcia, a few years later, founded the Marin County Alzheimer’s Association, for which she received several awards for her exceptional work. Amada’s next job was a position as a psychotherapist with the California Department of Mental Hygiene in Modesto, California, treating patients who had been discharged from state mental hospitals. After a stint as a therapist in a private agency in San Francisco, he received an offer that would shift his career entirely; he undertook the position of Director of the City College of San Francisco Mental Health Program, giving him the unique opportunity to develop a new and innovative mental health service for its students, the success of which was contingent on whether students utilized the service in significant numbers. “I didn’t, at the time, have ambitions for doing this kind of work, but it turned out wonderfully well,” he says.
In 1970, Amada began this new program, an on-campus mental health service, with a small staff. As the program continued, Amada began to notice that more and more college students were reported as exhibiting behavioral difficulties. By the late 1970s, he observed these behavioral problems were becoming increasingly more prevalent and threatening.
“Too often, one of two things happened; administrators, when consulted by faculty regarding disruptive students, either gave bad advice, or were dismissive,” he says. “Faculty didn’t know whether to send these students for discipline or therapy.”
To solve this problem, Amada created his own model based on his experiences as a consultant to faculty and administrators. The model focused on clarifying disciplinary procedures and encouraging instructors to use their own authority and prerogatives in dealing with misconduct in the classroom. When faculty and administrators began to apply Amada’s principles and methods in the classroom, they largely found positive results.
Amada began to collaborate and consult with other college psychotherapists, exchanging strategies and principles for dealing with misconduct on their respective college campuses. After publishing an article on his work with college students in The Journal of American College Health, Amada received an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a bi-national conference sponsored by Concordia University in Montreal. This conference was held in the wake of a horrendous massacre that took place at Ecole Polytechnique College in Montreal in 1989.
When he asked why he was selected to receive the distinction of being the keynote speaker, he says, “I was told that my article was the only one they could find that provided relevant and effective guidelines and principles for dealing with misconduct on the college campus. I didn’t realize, until then, that I was something of a pioneer.”
As more and more institutions sought out Amada’s practical and theoretical model, including investigators of the Virginia Tech shooting, he published books on his work: Mental Health and Student Conduct Issues on the College Campus, Coping with Misconduct in the College Classroom, and Coping with the Disruptive College Student.
When asked about his thoughts on college student behavior today, Amada has observed a noticeable increase in violent incidents on college campuses. Yet, it is also true, he asserts, that colleges are, for the most part, pretty safe havens for students. Amada’s research on the Virginia Tech massacre did reveal, however, that there is often a lack of clarity from faculty and administrators as to how to appropriately enlist help from the colleges’ mental health and disciplinary systems.
“Even if a disruptive student is mentally ill, schools have an obligation to protect all students from the misconduct of others,” Amada says. “There needs to be more training on how to gauge when discipline is appropriate, and how to administer it.”
Dr. Amada received his Ph.D. in Social and Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute, Berkeley, California in 1977. Now, fifty-seven years after graduating, Amada continues to write and review articles for psychology journals and speak at conferences. He has written books about his experiences doing individual psychotherapy, and even a few novels, including his dog’s autobiography. Amada’s professional career shows that the Rutgers School of Social Work has been the starting point for pioneers in the field, who find inspiration in both their peers and their education.