Nov. 1, 2022

Social work faculty unveils its strategic plan: A Place to Gather

Shared vision creates a space of connection, diversity and inclusion
Dr. Jennifer Leason talks at a podium with two of her colourful paintings off to the side.
Jennifer Leason addresses attendees of the Faculty of Social Work strategic plan launch – her two paintings of the Song to South are to the left. Zoltan Varadi, Faculty of Social Work

This summer, as the new academic year was about to start, the Faculty of Social Work unveiled its new strategic plan, entitled A Place to Gather, to a capacity audience of Elders, community partners, former deans, and faculty members,

“Our strategic plan will guide our every action,” assured Dr. Ellen Perrault, the dean of the Faculty of Social Work. “Our new plan will evolve and be shaped by the communities we partner with and serve. It creates a space for our stakeholders, partners, students, faculty, and staff to come together to make change.”

The launch event featured performances by Sorrel Rider Singers from Siksika Nation. Elder Leona Carter provided an opening blessing and Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement Michael Hart (whose home faculty is social work) provided an address. Tye Rhyno, Wood's Homes Indigenous liaison, provided smudging for people to enter in a good way.

Bringing a shared vision to life

The faculty’s strategic planning process began in 2020. Priorities and objectives were created following extensive engagement with Elders, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community partners.

Reflecting the faculty’s commitment to incorporating Indigenous ways of knowing, in November 2020, the entire faculty participated in a unique vision quest. The vision quest was led by led by Keesis Sagay Egette Kwe — Dr. Jennifer Leason, PhD, and Elder William (Billy) Iskotoohka Wadsworth.

“I saw the strategic planning process — moving from the old plan to a new plan — as a rite of passage. It was an opportunity for a new beginning,” says Leason, who is an off-reserve member of the Pine Creek First Nation in Manitoba, and an associate professor with the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology in UCalgary's Faculty of Arts.

Following songs to the east, south, west and north, faculty and staff collectively reflected on questions associated with each direction. They were asked to reflect on where the faculty is right now; their hopes and dreams; the barriers and obstacles they collectively faced; and the faculty’s strengths and gifts. Participants were asked to let their imaginations soar as they reflected on each question, and to visually capture the images that came to them.

Leason studied and coded the faculty members' drawings and paintings and following reflection and prayer, she created a series of eight magnificent paintings that captured the themes of the faculty’s artwork submissions.

Creating a space of connection, diversity and inclusion

Her beautiful canvases were unveiled during the launch event. She explained the significance of each image and sang to the themes in each direction. One of the central images to the plan is an image of multicoloured lodge-poles against an Alberta blue sky. The image was from the Song to the North, reflecting on the faculty’s strengths and gifts.

“It's this leaning on one another,” said Leason, explaining that the poles reflected the faculty’s diversity. “It’s the intersections and connections of these poles that creates a beautiful space of connection, diversity and inclusion, where we all come together as individuals, but we work together collectively for a common good and a common goal."

Mission, objectives and priorities

The extensive engagement approach yielded a faculty mission statement to “become a local and global partner in transformative social work knowledge, education, research, and practice.”

Key themes of the social work strategic plan are:

  1. Building a collaborative social work community to actualize equity, diversity, inclusion, and decolonization. Learning to model advanced social work practice and the ability to work across differences in our interactions with ourselves, students, colleagues, and communities.
  2. Providing students with training that prepares them to lead social work practice and positive change. Preparing social work students for positive transformative practice in response to societal needs for advancing well-being, sustainability, and social justice.
  3. Creating and sharing knowledge for advocacy and change through respectful and reciprocal community relationships and supporting marginalized peoples. Living our values of Respect, Integrity, Equity and Collaboration in all our work, including in our service to social work-related communities through our mobilization research.

“I’m very much looking forward to experiencing the growth of our faculty, and the impacts to communities we serve, by following this living plan,” says Perrault. “The university’s current campaign is tightly aligned with our faculty’s strategic plan.

"We have definitely started something, and we’re actively building something — we’re building community. With our stakeholders and partners, I believe our faculty, including the dedicated and talented social workers we educate and train, will help us achieve the objectives and mission as we continue to make a magnificent difference in society.”

Jennifer Leason is a Canada Research Chair with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Tier II, Indigenous Maternal Child Wellness).