*This testimonial was written by a Master of Social Work student that was working off her practicum hours at an out patient clinic. Her statement below was read at the clinic staff meeting after six weeks of enduring discrimination at her work place.
I have been sitting in this room for 6 weeks, attended 12 meetings, both medical and staff meetings in SMH. I have been listening, observing and learning from a psychiatrist, supervisors and other staff members. I did not talk at all during these meetings. Today, I would like to have a chance to talk and address a couple problems regarding one of these meetings. That meeting severely and negatively affected me and my internship here at SMH. I would like to draw your attention to the staff meeting last week, September 5.
First, even though I have been an intern here in SMH for six weeks, and regularly came to the meetings every Wednesday and Thursday for 12 times total, I noticed that staff in this department ignored my presence. Excepted for E.P, my former supervisor and the very few, who said, “hi,” or good morning to me, the rest of the staff totally ignored me as if I did not exist. Last week, on the staff meeting, I sat that the corner of the room, one female staff sat next to me on the left and another male social worker sat next to me on the right. They talked to each other over me in the middle. None of them said anything like people would normally do in this situation. “Sorry” or just “good morning,” or ask if they were bothering. I totally did not exist at that moment even though I sat next to both of them.
Second, as an intern, I was assigned an office down to the basement in a duplex building with other interns. I have been sitting down there for a month. The last two weeks of August, I was there by myself because another intern left for his vacation. After my first month here down in the basement, there a new intern came to join me. At the meeting last week, A, a front desk staff suggested that we (adult service’s department staff) should move the new intern upstairs to share the office with the other staff so she does not feel lonely in the basement. All of the staff nodded their heads in agreement with A’s suggestion. They ignored the fact that there was another intern in the room who was sitting alone in the basement for the last two weeks. My presence was again totally ignored.
Third, I was here in SMH for a month when was told by E.P, that I should take it easy. I will be assigned cases to work with clients after I setup my email and the access to psych counsel. When a new intern arrived, she got three cases in the first three day even she did not have her email and psych counsel set up yet. During the last week meeting, R.B, an MSW social worker raised the concern about the intern to the department director, Jim Nelson. She stated that she would have a new intern coming up the end of the September. She stated that because her new intern is bilingual, she was afraid that she would have a hard time to “find something for her to do.” I did not know if any body else that sat in the room that day was bilingual or not, but I am bilingual. Have I not been assigned cases because I am bilingual? The department/supervisor/staffs questions my competency because I can speak two languages?
Everything that happened from last week staff meeting made me feel small, insignificant, invisible, powerless, incompetent and racially discriminated against. I was speechless. I was shocked. I felt intimidated. I felt angry. I cried when I got home and I could not sleep that night thinking, evaluating and analyzing the situation that I went on. I have had one week to sort things out and put myself together, gather my strength and thoughts to write this note and to speak up for myself. If I cannot advocate for myself right now, I cannot advocate to my clients in the future.
As a member of the minority group and as a human being, I do not tolerate racism and discrimination in any form, especially discrimination during my pursuit of my education.
I would like to tell you some facts about myself so everybody here has a chance to know me a little bit better.
I was born and raised in Vietnam. I came to the U.S 16 years go. I graduated from UC Berkeley in California with the bachelor in Social Work and Fine Art. I graduated from UC Davis with Master in Fine Art. I am working toward to finishing another Master in Social Work in University of Washington here in Seattle.
Additional to my internship and classes in school, I am a part time case manager in Asian Counseling and Referral Services, a top 5 mental health provider in King County. I also run a weekly art therapy group for people with severe mental illness in ACRS for over one year. I provide one-on-one support to about ten clients in art therapy as the intervention to their recovery.
I am a weekend monitor at the Senior Center in Pike Market; overseeing four staff memebers to provide weekend activities, breakfast and lunch for more or less 80 club members -- mostly homeless seniors 55 year old and older. The majority of them are Caucasian and African American.
I worked in the Transitional Program and Support Employment for Washington initiative to provide vocational and social support for young adult with disability after high school. Also, I worked with refugee and new immigrant families who have children with Autism to provide resource support, especially healthcare for them in Kent city.
I also am a professional artist who currently has an art piece that showcased in Wing Luke Museum; focus on the theme of Race, Discrimination and Social Justice.
And I am proudly to be a bilingual.
With that background, certainly I believe that I have plenty of experience to take a few cases to help out overloaded case managers and social workers here in this department.
With that background, my practicum supervisor from my program sent me to SHM for my advance practicum because she believed this site is a perfect match for me. I do not come here so the supervisor and staff can find something for me to do. I came here with specific learning objectivities and activities in mind. I am interesting in individual therapy, group therapy using CBT model. I would like to learn and improve my skills set for that focus when I am here. I did not plan to come here to learn about racism and discrimination because I got that covered from my Foundation courses.
For that reason, I have decided to quit my internship here. After last week’s meeting, I do not think SMH ‘s adult service department is a good and healthy site for me to learn and grow to be a culturally competent clinician social worker.
I will report back to my practicum supervisor, my Dean, my program and ask for another site that has cultural competent focus.
After six weeks here, I have bad and good moments that I equally value as life changing experiences. I did have educational, productive, meaningful opportunities here in SHM to meet and know so many wonderful clients, especially clients from Emerald Club. They taught me so much by their real life experiences, from their warm hearts and eagerness to get better with their dignity in tact. I was allowed to sit in so many group therapies where clients shared their feelings and their life stories to make the effort to solve life problems. I do feel safe to walk freely among of them.
As for the department and staff and supervisor here in SHM, keep in mind interns have to pay their money through the school so they can to work here in the agency. Interns have to pay a lot of money, especially international and out of state interns. Therefore, they came here with learning objectivities in mind. They do not come here to create the burden for staff and supervisors to “find something for them to do to keep them busy.” If SMH, staff and supervisors do not have experiences, do not feel comfortable or do not want to work with bilingual interns, intern of colors, Vietnamese and South East Asian interns, please feel free to say NO so the school of social work can find other places for them. By doing that, nobody wastes anybody’s time. And especially not waste interns’ money, which is mostly from student loans.
Lastly, mental illness, in my opinion, is human condition. Statically, 1 out of 100 people has schizophrenia, 1 out of 150 children is diagnosis with Autism. 1 out of 4 American exhibits some symptoms that well documented from DSM IV. Everybody has experiences emotional down side at least one or two times in their life with anxiety, depression, stress and other related symptoms.
Racism and discrimination are not human conditions but an inhumane disease that should be eradicated.
People with mental health issues get help from their psychiatrist, a treatment team, medication, counseling, social support networks, therapy, support employment and other resources. It is much easier to solve the problem of racism and discrimination. Just treat people of color like human being!
I take this matter seriously and have spoken from my heart. I hope that everybody here in Adult services of SMH does the same!