Social work students from across Texas gather at Capitol

Meara Isenberg

Speaking out about everything from gun reform to helping homeless veterans, hundreds of social work students from colleges across Texas met at the south steps of the State Capitol on Monday afternoon as part of Social Work Student Day at the Legislature.

“A lot of us don’t feel equipped to really be advocates to the fullest extent possible,” said Lynn Panepinto, social work graduate student and event organizer. “Having events like this helps us to come together and not only remember that this is part of our role as social workers, but also be empowered by one another and just know we are in this together.”

The event, hosted by UT every other year, filled the Shirley Bird Perry Ballroom with students. They listened to speakers and a student panel discussion. From there, some chose to march to the Capitol, where students were invited to speak out about their passions and attend pre-scheduled visits with state legislators.

Social work professor Barbara Anderson, who helped organize Social Work Student Day, said the event is held at UT because of its close proximity to the Capitol. With visitors from social work programs at various universities, including Texas A&M University-Commerce and Texas State University, the event allowed social work students to put their studies into practice.

“We don’t prescribe the issue that they’re elevating, that’s kind of something that each participant will determine for themselves,” Anderson said. “What we try to do with a big gathering is build up their excitement, and expand their understanding (of issues).”

Students stepped up to a mic in front of the Capitol to share what they were passionate about with the crowd of their peers, tackling subjects such as domestic abuse prevention and public transportation funding. Emily Gilbreath, junior at Tarleton State University, spoke about funding for people with disabilities.

“People with intellectual or developmental disabilities, anybody who has autism, blindness, vision impairments and hearing impairments, are often overlooked,” Gilbreath said. “Sometimes the funding that could help them is used inappropriately.”

Gilbreath said she became interested in raising awareness for people with disabilities because her cousin has autism and has not received some of the resources he needs.

“(It’s important) to raise awareness, and to help other people realize that the things we feel are important could be important to them as well,” Gilbreath said.

After speaking, Gilbreath joined some of the social work students in the Capitol to talk to state legislators about their issues. State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, appeared before the crowd of people at the Capitol and encouraged students to meet with lawmakers.

“What you’re doing here is so very important to making sure your voices are heard,” Howard said. “Talk to us, talk to your legislators, come with your best ideas, and who knows, we may be able to make a difference at the Capitol with your help.”

Some students who attended the rally, such as Texas State University junior Kourtney Vital, did not have a specific topic they wanted to speak out about but came to listen to others. Vital said she was excited to be included in the biggest gathering of social workers she had ever seen.

“Not a lot of people know about our profession,” Vital said. “So I think it’s a good thing for a lot of us to come together, show what we’re made of and show what our profession is about.”