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An Interview with Patricia Hart ‘83
March 11, 2020

Throughout this month, we’re highlighting stories from alumni and friends to help celebrate the 2020 Social Work Month theme “Social Workers: Generations Strong.” In marking the 1980s, we sat down with alumna Patricia Hart MSW ’83. 

Hart is the Executive Director of Womanspace, a nonprofit agency that provides services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We had the opportunity to speak with her and learn more about her decision to enter the profession, her thoughts on social work’s past, and her hopes for the future.

How did the decade in which you studied at Rutgers SSW impact your education and career? Was there an event or movement that sparked your interest in social work?
I attended Rutgers School of Social Work from 1981-1983. As a young mom returning to graduate school, my life was full of raising children and all things associated with it (being a room mom, team mom, etc.).  Life was fairly insular for me as it consisted mostly of friends and family. Social work school gave me an entirely different perspective on the world. My view became more global, and my commitment to the women’s movement began and strengthened. It was as if a light bulb went off for me and I became politically active both at home and in the world. 

Before starting at Rutgers I completed an undergraduate internship in the Trenton-based Program for Adolescent Moms. I learned so much and began to understand more fully the impact of being young, unmarried, and female in our society. When I graduated I went into outpatient mental health, but my concentration was on gender-based psychotherapy. I was able to integrate the power imbalance that exists in the world to help families find a balance in their relationships. I loved the field but when the opportunity became available to work in the field of violence against women, I applied. I became the Executive Director of Womanspace, and it was a perfect fit. It combined my love of social work (helping people) and my belief in equality. Over the years my commitment to equality grew in all of its dimensions. This position has allowed me to pursue change on a macro and micro level, working with statewide coalitions and with national organizations to ensure that policies and laws are victim-centered and working with the community to join in a coordinated effort to serve the underserved. On a micro level I have built programming in this incredible agency to provide much-needed services to individuals and families. I have also had the enormous good fortune to supervise at least 50 graduate students. I was able to teach and continue to learn through them. 

Rutgers School of Social Work changed and enhanced my life and trickled down to enhance the lives of my family. 

This year’s Social Work Month theme is “Generations Strong.” What does this idea mean to you?
“Generations Strong” means that we all learn from each other. Professionally, our experience is shared with those who come after us. The generations that come after us add to what they’ve learned from us, and then pass those lessons along to the next generation. I always hope that I don’t just supervise students but that I train each of them to be effective trainers in their own right.

From a personal perspective, I raised two daughters who have strong feminist ideals and a son who supports those ideals. I am so proud to have had the opportunity to share this passion with them. Now I have eight grandchildren: seven girls and one boy. Working for a women’s organization that prioritizes life and family, I was able to combine my very important and sometimes all-consuming job with a day a week of being with my grandchildren. I believe we learn by living, not lecturing, so my hope is that my grandchildren have learned from their parents and from their grandmother (me). I love the term “Generations Strong.” It speaks to hope for the future. When we raise strong, committed children, the whole world benefits.

What do you see as the future of social work? How can the field of social work adapt to our ever-changing world?
Social work has changed. When I started in the field there were limited views of what a social worker could/would do. I took a lot of teasing from my brother about what it meant to be a social worker, but he does not tease me now. Social workers can and do change the world. We believe in the interrelatedness of systems and we use that knowledge to make everyone’s lives better. These days are full of challenges, and our work is never done. 

I believe as a field we need to recruit diversity into our schools. We need to offer courses in different languages and ensure that the student body represents our communities. It is only by training diverse people that all people will have the voice they deserve. Teaching technology in schools might be a good idea as well. It will keep us relevant in a fast-paced society.

We have a lot of work to do, and the field has grown and changed. I think most students come into the field, like I did, to help people, and we do. We also quickly learn that we can’t help people in isolation. We need to be with the people in creating social change and railing against injustice, discrimination, hatred, and fear as policy. 

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