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50 Years of Social Justice

University of Houston GCSW dean Alan Dettlaff reflects on school's golden jubilee.

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RECOGNIZED LEADER: Alan Dettlaff has been dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work since 2015. The college will celebrate its 50th anniversary with an August 17 gala honoring alumni whose social work has made a difference.

Under the current Trump administration, social work is more crucial than ever before, according to Alan Dettlaff.

Dettlaff, an openly gay man, is the dean of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work (GCSW). His objective, since being appointed in 2015, is to further embrace the college’s mission to prepare leaders in practice and research to address challenges and achieve sustainable social, racial, economic, and political justice.

“We’re living in a time where there are obvious social injustices happening in our society,” Dettlaff says. “As a college of social work, it is our responsibility to address those issues and bring them to the forefront of our work.”

With the implementation of a new curriculum, a strategic five-year plan, and a calendar filled with social-justice-oriented events, it is clear that Dettlaff (with the help of GCSW faculty, staff, and students) is leading the college in the right direction. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, the GCSW is one of the top 25 social-work programs in the nation.

That national recognition was achieved “in part due to the strong emphasis we’ve placed on social, racial, and economic justice,” Dettlaff says. “Over the years, many schools of social work, including the GCSW, have moved in a more political direction.

“I always tell our students that as social workers, we have a dual purpose,” Dettlaff adds, “not only to address the needs of our clients, but also the bigger issues in society that create the need for social workers in the first place.”

The GCSW marked a milestone when it turned 50 last year. The college will celebrate its golden anniversary with an August 17 gala at the UH Hilton Hotel that honors 50 exemplary alumni who have made a difference through their social work.

“We’re concluding our anniversary year with a celebration of our alumni,” Dettlaff says. “These folks were solicited through nominations from the community, and were selected because they have used their careers to make social, racial, and political justice.”

In addition to being spotlighted on social media, these 50 GCSW graduates will receive recognition at the gala. Former faculty members will also give presentations about the impact that UH’s college of social work has had throughout its history.

The GCSW was established by the Texas State Legislature in 1967 with funding of $150,000. One year later, the college opened in a World War II steel Quonset hut with seven founding faculty members, three staff, and 26 students enrolled in its first class.

The college has grown to become the nationally recognized program that it is today, with more than 5,000 alumni. Now housed in its own four-story building on the UH main campus, the GCSW includes 24 full-time and approximately 15 adjunct faculty members.

This year’s GCSW class is the largest the school has ever seen, Dettlaff says. Current enrollment is up 42 percent over 2018, with over 500 graduate-level students and around 40 doctoral students.

“It has been an honor to lead this college,” Dettlaff says, “to help shape the new direction it has taken over the past few years, and to witness what our students achieve after they graduate.”

What: GCSW 50th-Anniversary Celebration
When: August 17
Where: University of Houston Hilton Hotel


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Lourdes Zavaleta

Lourdes Zavaleta is the managing editor of OutSmart magazine.

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