James Madison University

Celebrating 50 Years of Social Justice

By: Cait Patterson
Posted: February 17, 2012

In 1962, James Madison University was still called Madison College, men were only day students and Dr. G. Tyler Miller was president of the college. The college was rapidly expanding, and began offering a Social Work program, which was part of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. Elmer Smith was the Department Head of this trifecta of programs, in Johnston Hall, a former dorm building converted to classrooms that was then shared between the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work and the Department of Psychology.

The program received its accreditation from the Council of Social Work Education in 1977. This same year, Greg Versen came to JMU as a Social Work professor. “In 1977, the ISAT building where we’re located now was all pasture,” he said, “I’ve seen the college change dramatically.” On July 1, 1989, Social Work became recognized as a separate department when R. Ann Myers was the Department Head.

Fifty years later, the program has graduated several thousand students, and in December 2012, Anne Curtis Croxton and Jennifer James will join this group of alumni. In high school, James volunteered in nursing homes, and was encouraged by her mentor to pursue a career in social work. Both describe being drawn towards social work because of their “save the world mentality” and desire to “help people and learn from others.” Croxton, president of the Social Work Organization (SWO), said, “It’s awesome to see the growth of the program, but as officers of SWO, we see the pressure of planning these events, although it is an honor to represent the program.” As James, secretary of the organization, added on, “It’s an honor to be a part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration, I’m excited to meet the alumni and learn about how the program used to be.”

The Social Work program has received many awards and recognitions, most recently the respected the 2011 Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This award recognizes programs that perform excellently in assessment and accomplishment nationwide. The Social Work program was also the first recipient of the James Madison University Provost's Excellence Award for Assessment.

With 50 years of such accomplishments, the department has chosen March, National Social Work Month, to celebrate this milestone. The department will be hosting a series of events that are scheduled to occur from Monday March 19, 2012 to Friday March 23, 2012. This week also features a theme of “Social Work with Families: Access for All.”

March 19, Impact Day, is moderated by Dr. Nancy Poe, and will consist of groups of balloons placed around campus representing 1 in 5 statistics. Social work professor Cindy Hunter is in charge of Service Day, which will be hosted on March 20. Students will be encouraged to participate in some kind of service project off campus. March 21 will feature an event moderated by Dr. Josh Baldwin, called Shout Out Day. Tentatively, Baldwin would like to have a march across campus, displaying information about social work, ending at the Festival for a celebration. March 22 is scheduled as Students’ Posters Day, an annual academic competition that features student posters on studies or subjects they have covered throughout the semester.

The weeklong celebration will come to a close on Friday March 23, with a busy day full of panels, conferences, workshops and many highly recognized speakers. One of the speakers on Friday will be Dr. Lori Messenger, a professor from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She is nationally recognized for her leadership in the area of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning social work. The Social Work Department is ecstatic about having her speak at the 50th Anniversary Celebration.

“I plan to be here,” said Versen who retired from teaching in 2001 but is now an affiliate of the college. “It’s a wonderful milestone and I hope to be involved in any way possible on March 23.”

The final event will be a reception celebrating the Social Work Department, and is open to students, faculty, field advisors, community professionals and alums. JMU students are welcomed and encouraged to participate in any and all of the events of the week.

But these 50 years of the Social Work won’t stop celebrating in March. On Friday October 26 of Homecoming Weekend 2012, an Alumni Banquet will be open to all Social Work alumni. The Social Work Department is excited to catch up with as many alumni as possible, as Versen said, “For the homecoming event, we hope to get alums from farther away to celebrate with us.” For more information about attending the alumni banquet, please see the social work website for continued updates.