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How UGA’s School of Social Work focuses on World Social Justice Every Day

When the University of Georgia School of Social Work decided to offer the first fully online Master of Social Work degree in Georgia in the fall of 2020—it did so hoping to address the growing demand for social workers who will tackle social justice in the future. 

On February 20, as many celebrate World Social Justice day and pledge to join the cause—several Social Work faculty members have already begun.

The faculty of the online program are already working toward bringing social justice to areas they are passionate about. Javier Boyas, associate professor in UGA’s School of Social Work and Master of Social Work program director, started his career at UGA in 2018.

His research aims to build knowledge that contributes to effective intervention and prevention approaches to reducing and eliminating health disparities among communities of color, particularly among the Latinx community. 

“I could not think of anything better than to immerse myself in an academic community that shares that social justice value,” Boyas says.

Another MSW online faculty member, Orion Mowbray, hopes to help a similar cause. Since joining the university in 2013, he has focused on promoting access to mental health services and the outcomes of mental health services utilization.

His current research interests examine how mental health is addressed in the criminal justice system. This includes expanding accountability court programs for persons with mental health problems, providing training and data-driven information jails on screening and detection of mental health problems, and providing adequate mental health services to persons after they are released from jail or prison. 

As faculty in the School of Social work, Mowbray believes teaching is the means for social change. He hopes his students gain a deeper understanding of the world they live in, including where they fit into it.

“I want students to achieve this understanding because I believe that through education of broader world views, empathy, compassion, and hope can be cultivated, which can lead to helpful social change through local, state and federal action and advocacy,” Mowbray says.

Another faculty member within the School of Social Work, associate professor, David Okech, is working toward social justice as well. Okech received a $15.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of State Office to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, to study how, why and how frequently trafficking occurs in West Africa. 

The grant scales up a $4 million grant Okech previously received to collect data on the prevalence of human trafficking in parts of Sierra Leone and Guinea and enables Okech’s team to study the prevalence of trafficking in Senegal as well. The grant also gives organizations sorely needed funding to implement preventive programs and provide support to trafficking survivors. 

The grant will also launch a first-of-its-kind forum that will enlist scholars around the world to test and develop the best ways to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking.

On World Social Justice day, and every other day of the year, The School of Social work is leading the state in both research and course delivery to tackle social justice issues world-wide.