Harrisonburg to Beijing: social work in a global context


By: Shannon Shevlin
Creative Services Student Writer

Cindy Hunter in China

How do universities engage with the challenges of today’s diverse and unequal world? For students and professors, global learning experiences are a valuable way to understand how widespread issues intersect with student life. During summer of 2018, social work professor Cindy Hunter completed a study tour in China that afforded her useful insight and new ideas that will enhance her research and teaching for years to come.

From social policy to community development, Hunter’s background is rooted in service. After earning her undergraduate degree in public health education from Central Michigan University in 1983, Hunter completed a two-year mission with the Peace Corps in Mauritania. In the years following, Hunter developed extensive experience working with individuals who are homeless, immigrants or refugees. This spirit of social leadership and civic responsibility is reflected by her work as a volunteer and professional public servant.   She later earned her Masters in Social Work from Howard University with a concentration in Displaced Populations.

Hunter was selected to participate the Zhi-Xing China Academic Leaders Fellowship Program which was  sponsored by China Studies Institute and the American Association of State College and Universities with additional contributions by JMU's Center for Global Education.  Her passion for the field and commitment to excellence made her an ideal candidate for this distinguished honor. While Hunter’s fellowship spanned a short three weeks, lessons from the intensive seminars, lectures, readings and cultural activities will last a lifetime. The experience was highly informative, inspiring and engaging as professionals learned about subjects ranging from Chinese history and literature to business and education. Alongside 11 professors from across the U.S., Hunter visited several universities and vocational schools with her Chinese colleagues and toured three cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an. While she enjoyed the immersive nature of the fellowship she is most excited about integrating this experience across her teaching and advising of future students.

Cindy Hunter in China

“It was amazing to see how culture and history have shaped life in a country like China,” Hunter said, “There are powerful lessons in history that must be honored, but there are also bright ideas for the future that should be supported.” She added, “As a teacher and social worker, I want students to realize how they can mobilize change and solve problems in these contexts.”

Hunter’s greatest takeaway from the experience includes a deeper understanding of Chinese progress on global issues. From poverty alleviation to greenhouse-gas reduction, Hunter articulated how citizens and students should embrace these lessons in innovation. She said, “We can only solve the world’s problems if we observe and learn from other people,” and added, “Our public policy can better the world – but only if we choose to be curious, creative and open-minded about what others are doing.”  Hunter tempered her enthusiasm for China's progress with the realities such as a strong state online surveillence/censorship and the human rights violations against Muslim Uyghurs.  "Progress and ethical treatment of a countries citizens must go hand in hand. Dignity and respect of people is a central value of social work." said Hunter.  "I was watching the news from China of children being separated from their parents at the border of Mexico and the US and feeling despair over human rights abuses in both US and China."  

Furthermore, Hunter experienced the benefits of international education firsthand, and is passionate about her commitment to diversity in the classroom. She expressed how students and professors have valuable opportunities to collaborate with international students, and how being intentional and inclusive can make a difference. She emphasized, “The point of diversity is to be challenged by other people and perspectives,” Hunter added, “You have to be willing to trust and engage with others. That’s how we achieve new discovery.”

Hunter hopes to use lessons from her study tour to further the social work department’s mission of strengthening community life and preparing students to work in a broad spectrum of social agencies. By sharing her experience, she encourages students to continue collaborating with diverse groups of people and pursuing learning opportunities beyond the classroom. Hunter concluded, “Education must move beyond research – we need to be developing a vision and using our skills to better the world.”


Published: Thursday, December 6, 2018

Last Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2018

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