Social work advocates plan rally following dissolution of collaborative group

Joseph Sweeney, General News Reporter

On Friday afternoon around 30 social work advocates sat designing posters at Pease Park in preparation for their April 11 rally to protest low student worker pay in front of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work.

“Unpaid labor = unpaid bills,” said one sign, another stating, “We can’t put clients first if you put us last.”

These individuals are part of UT’s chapter of FED UP, the Field Education and Development Undergraduate/Graduate Placements, a group dedicated to improving the pay and field hours expected of social work students. 

Beth Wagner, a core organizer for FED UP, said the organization established a working group with administration in fall 2022 to engage in conversations around low student pay, but it was dissolved abruptly in February by Social Work Dean Allan Cole.

“They sprung it on us in our first working group meeting of the spring semester,” said Wagner, a social work graduate student. “We were very surprised by that. We looked for many compromises … but they refused to budge.”

Wagner said they are currently planning their response to the recent changes with administration from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work. 

In an email addressed to students in the social work school earlier this semester, Cole said the student group’s involvement with administration was not dissolved and that he never threatened to do so, but instead the working group was expanded to incorporate the wider student body.

“The positive and constructive conversations with this group of students have been hampered by their sharing of inaccurate information,” Cole said in the email. “I decided it was time to expand the conversation beyond the working group to include all of our students.”

FED UP’s rally will take place on April 11 at 11 a.m. — right before the next student support conversation Cole announced in his February email.

Organizers said the chapter, founded in February of last year, is part of a national movement to improve the pay and labor hours of those enrolled in social work programs.

The Council on Social Work Education requires bachelor’s and master’s students work 400 and 900 field hours, respectively. Wagner said the University requires additional hours to be completed, which the group hopes to reduce. 

Core FED UP organizer Parham Daghighi said the school has also begun establishing a Student Support Fund for those in need. The application process for this fund is yet to be released.

Wagner said the group hopes the school will establish an additional fund to pay students for field work, given most social work agencies are unable to compensate them on their own.

“We’re not in it for the money,” said Miranda Best-Campos, a core FED UP organizer. “(But) we do need to get paid. We are humans that need to survive, but money is obviously not a motivator … something that’s really important for me is relationships and people and that human connection, and I really get that in the field of social work.”