A few weeks later I was picking up the mail for the Connecticut Outreach Society and there was the fall catalog for UConn School of Social Work fall STEP program and I tossed it in the trash.
Then in September of 2006 at work they announced that they were shutting down the factory next year and they would give us tuition reimbursement and I thought back to the STEP program catalog. I remembered what L and A told me and I went on the UConn School of Social Work website to read up about the STEP program. I decided to give it a try and registered for the spring 2007 STEP program.
The STEP program allows you to attend classes as a non-matriculating student for up to 15 credits and then apply to be a matriculating student. You can then transfer your credits over if you get accepted as a full time student. Also since I was still working the company paid for my tuition until I was laid off and then severance package paid for about 2/3 of the classes. (I later found out that out of the 64 employees at the factory, I was the only one to take advantage of tuition reimbursement).
I started taking classes in the spring semester of 2007 and chose as my method Community Organizing, CO is what is called a macro practice area meaning it is not focused on individuals or small groups but instead on intervening with organizations, communities, and groups of people. I stretched out my classes so that I was only taking two classes per semester instead of the normal four classes, which made it a lot easier for me.
At work no one could understand why I wanted to get my MSW since my undergraduate degree was in Electronic Technology and I couldn’t tell them the real reason why since I wasn’t out to them. The only one who knew that I was trans and the real reason why I wanted my MSW was the head of the HR department who I was out to a year earlier.
It was the best decision that I ever made, for the first time in my life I loved going to school, I loved the classroom discussion, I loved having my mind stimulated, and I made a lot of life long friends.
But school wasn't all smooth sailing at first, my first two classes I had problems. It was close to 30 years since I was an undergraduate and many things have changed since then, mainly me. I was masquerading as a male back then and now I started attending classes as Diana.
One problem that I had was that I didn’t realize that you could have someone proofread your term paper and that cost me a letter grade, I went from an A- to a B- because of my grammar. After I found that you could have someone proofread my papers my grades improved and I graduated with a 3.8 GPA (Thank you, S for your help) compared to my undergraduate GPA of 2.1. My other problem was that I hadn’t transitioned yet so I had to register in my legal name and before the first class started I talked to the professor and told them that I go by Diana and that I prefer female pronouns.
When I applied to become a matriculating student I had to submit my application and my undergraduate transcripts which were in my male name and on microfilm and they can’t be changed. So I got expected phone call from admissions about a problem with my transcripts, when I walked through the office doors and they saw me they said that the problem was resolved.
As part of the curriculum I had to have two internships (560 hours each). My internships were with CWEALF who supervised my lobbying for the gender inclusive anti-discrimination bill in 2009 and my other internship in 2011 was with True Colors working on their conference and also with GSAs to help them lobby for the gender inclusive anti-discrimination bill. But I also attended other meetings for True Colors.
When I first started my internships my Field Instructor asked me about my support network. I asked her what she meant and she said someone that I could turn to for emotional support. Being in community organizing I didn’t think much about needing help, after all I am not dealing with clients in therapy, after all how emotional could organizing a rally be. But I was wrong. At meeting for the Court Support Services Division on behalf of True Colors about a trans-girl under 18 that they were looking housing to place her in.
Her story was something that I never thought happens here in Connecticut; my white suburban background never prepared me for. She was a run away and was picked up by a pimp at the bus station and forced on heroin and then into prostitution. But her ordeal didn’t end there, when she was arrested and testified against the pimp, he shot her on the court house steps. The Court Support Services Division was looking to shelter her but there is no organization in Connecticut that wanted to take her in, an addicted trans-teenager with a contract out for her.
It was after that meeting that I needed my support network… my brother. I called him and my emotions pour out. Even to this day thinking about her still affects me.
So what am I doing to use my degree?
I am on the Board of Directors of a non-profit trans-organization. I have been giving workshops on cultural competency to social workers, educating them on what to expect if they have a client who comes out trans (I gave a workshop last Friday for the Connecticut chapter of the NASW). I’m on a couple of committees, one on safe schools, and the other aging. In addition, I am a guest lecturer for a couple of classes at UConn and I am also working with a group that wants to start a residential home for trans-people.
I can across this blog Social Justice Solutions, and they had a post about "Things They Don’t Tell You In Social Work School" (They also have a part II) the list is so true…
- You can’t save everyone
- You should be grateful
- It’s not the place to meet guys
- Get off the couch
- We’re not all saints
#1 is a hard lesson to learn in the non-profit that I’m on the Board and the health clinic where I volunteer it is hard to tell clients that in Connecticut there is only one free clinic that prescribes hormones and there are no shelters that just accept trans-people. Talking to trans-people that are looking for homeless shelters and are forced to shelter in their birth gender where they face harassment. They do not what to fight for their right to use a shelter of their gender identity for fear of being blacklisted.
#3 is sooo true! Almost all my classmates were women. Probably about 96%, out of about a hundred students in my class there were three or four men.
When I was in my last semester everyone was talking about job offers and I was shocked at their offers. My technicians with a two year degree were making almost that much, with overtime they were making more and engineers fresh out of college with a BSEE were making way more money.
I think that going back to school was the best thing that I have done.