By Kenneth Millar
Dean of the College of Health and Human Services
CSU Long Beach
The path of my career – from social worker, to professor, to director and now dean – started with the first class I took with my college mentor, Professor Richard McDonald. He was a role model that exemplified the principles I believe in: social justice, democratic social change, public service, equity and empathy. Professor McDonald had his master’s in Social Work, so it seemed fitting that I would also go for an MSW when I completed my undergraduate degree. It was a start for what would be a lifelong journey in higher education.
Positive role models are critical throughout life. Too often, adults entrusted to be parents, guardians and role models are instead the source of pain, abuse and upheaval in a young person’s life. Perhaps the most difficult part of social work involving families is facing how truly vulnerable children are, and how cruel some people can be.
Social work professionals are often called on to evaluate the source and extent of the damage done to a child and put him or her in a safe environment. Salvaging a family is a goal if the situation allows, but if not, finding that child a safe home becomes paramount.
A young child came to my attention back when I was a social worker in Canada. His parents neglected him – the father especially showed a total lack of emotional attachment. Since the child couldn’t be left in this situation, he was removed and put into temporary foster care. In working with the parents, my colleagues and I discovered that the father’s emotional neglect in large part stemmed from his own history of childhood abuse at the hands of his father. This served as an unfortunate reminder that not all role models are positive and that negative role models can be just as powerful a force in a person’s life.
The boy’s father was eventually able to work through his history of childhood abuse with the help of professionals. By interrupting the cycle of abuse and neglect, we were able to reconstitute and salvage a family with confidence that the child was in a safe place.
All of the children I worked with some three decades ago are adults and perhaps parents now. I cannot help but wonder if and hope that they found meaningful positive role models.
Abused and neglected youth who make their way to college often pursue an education in fields of public service such as social work, health care and family services. In my days as a faculty member, I often took special care to be a role model for these students.
As dean of the College of Health and Human Services, I have less contact with students than I would like. However, my desire to be a positive role model has not changed. I seek to lead by example and empower college staff and faculty to be the role models for CSU Long Beach students. I know that we are shaping careers and lives, because I know that a professor shaped mine.