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MSW student stands up for social justice
December 8, 2017


By Asiya Fricke

Ever since Patricia Louis '18 can remember, her friends confided in her. With an infectious smile, expressive brown eyes, and a "say it like it is attitude" she is both approachable and authentic. 

As she got older, her friends confided in her even more about the personal issues they were having. "I had a friend come to me about sexual abuse that she was dealing with from family members," Louis explains.  "When I saw that she was upset, I simply asked her to tell me what was wrong." 

Even though she was only in elementary school when this happened, Louis  had enough understanding to know that she wasn't equipped to counsel her friend on this issue and instead urged her to seek help from the school counselor. "I guess you could say that social work chose me from an early age."

In high school, Louis got involved in the after school program Building Future Leaders, a program to build up the confidence of youth and keep them off the streets. "It focused on advocacy, and we did a lot of marches and events,"  she says.

One of her biggest advocacy moments in high school related to a transgender student.  "I was sitting with peers at lunch and they were saying derogatory things about the transgender student. They called her over and asked why she was wearing a skirt. She answered and said 'I'm wearing a skirt because I identify as a woman. I am transgender.' At the time, I didn't know what that meant. They didn't teach us about these differences in high school. Some people at my table started laughing and told her to just say that she was gay." 

That attitude didn't sit well with Louis. "I asked her what her name was. She said 'Courtney,' and I said 'Hi, Courtney, my name is Patty.' People at the table continued to ask her rude questions and I told them to be quiet. That's how I met Courtney and began to understand that issues of gender identity were complex. I looked up the terminology when I got home. That's how you prevent yourself from being ignorant." 

Louis again tried to intervened when a teacher told Courtney she was not allowed to use the girls or the boys bathroom because it made people uncomfortable.  "I immediately left class and went to the principal's office. I told him I didn't feel it was fair Courtney couldn't use either bathroom. He told me to mind my business. When I went back to class, the teacher said, 'You can't fight other people's battles.' I said, 'Yes, I can.'"

With help from adults who ran the Building Future Leaders program, Louis was able to find a solution, though not a perfect one. "Courtney still wasn't able to use the girl's or boy's bathroom but she was able to use's the nurse's bathroom." 

Louis loves being the person her friends come to for advice, though this responsibility can also take its toll. She chose to get her MSW with a concentration in Management and Policy (MAP) as a way to balance this part of her life. "I hold on to the things people tell me, which you're not supposed to do. So, I'm trying to make sure I don't take it home with me. I originally wanted to work with kids who had been sexually abused, but I know that job would be difficult to leave at work." 

Louis realizes that clinical social work isn't the only option for helping others. She hopes to work at the Department of Children and Families before opening up her non-profit.

Louis leaves this piece of advice to current MSW students. "No matter what obstacles you face, believe that you will succeed in the end." 

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