Latinx Leadership Initiative marks 10th anniversary

The Boston College School of Social Work program will commemorate the milestone with a daylong event March 15

The Boston College School of Social Work’s widely praised Latinx Leadership Initiative will commemorate its 10th anniversary with a daylong event on March 15, “Well-Being of Latinx Communities: Social Work Response,” bringing together notable experts in social work education and practice, and other related fields.

Guest speakers at the LLI event will include past Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, a former BCSSW faculty member; Joy Rosen, vice president of Massachusetts General Hospital and Massachusetts General Physician Organization & Mass General Brigham, System Behavioral and Mental Health, who will give the keynote; and University of California-Berkeley School of Social Welfare Professor Kurt Organista, who will offer the closing remarks.

BCSSW Professor and LLI Founding Director Rocío Calvo and LLI Assistant Director Ximena Soto will be among the BC-affiliated speakers at the invitation-only event, which takes place in Barat House.

August 22, 2023 -- Rocío Calvo, Boston College School of Social Work Professor, and Founder/Director of Latinx Leadership Initiative (LLI), photographed in her McGuinn Hall office.

LLI Founding Director Rocío Calvo (Caitlin Cunningham)

Calvo founded the LLI in 2013, designing a cohort-based program that has prepared almost 240 bilingual and bicultural social workers to accompany Latinx communities in developing sustainable solutions to complex problems in health, education, housing, and other areas. Students in the program take courses in Spanish, complete internships in schools, hospitals, and prisons, and conduct cutting-edge research that shapes social workers’ strategies to support Latinx clients.

The initiative has been recognized as a Model Program for Diversity Education by the Council on Social Work Education’s Center for Diversity and Social & Economic Justice, and it received a top national award from Excelencia in Education.

When she first hatched the concept of LLI, Calvo wondered if her idea would even be considered, let alone accepted: “I basically said, ‘Trust me, it will work.’” Fortunately, BCSSW—where she earned a doctorate in 2009, joining the faculty in 2011 after a postdoc fellowship at Harvard—proved supportive.

“BC is the very embodiment of Jesuit education: student formation,” she said, citing a quote by former Jesuit Superior Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.: “The real measure of Jesuit universities lies in who our students become.”

“LLI students, many of whom are children of immigrants, relate to the mission for which BC was originally founded, to serve immigrant families,” Calvo continued. “As members of the community, LLI students and alumni become the bridge between the production of knowledge and the application of that knowledge to address issues identified by the community. So, as the birthplace of LLI, BC has had a significant impact on others.

“By teaching in Spanish, we open the door to changing the learning space in which students interact. For students, many for the first time, this change enables them to bring their authentic selves into academic spaces that have historically denied the full expression of their lived experiences.”

Rather than hold a 10th-anniversary celebration to sing the program’s praises, BCSSW organizers saw an opportunity for assessing LLI’s strengths and challenges, along with its future paths. To give the event added impact, the school invited deans from other social work schools—including Columbia University, University of Chicago, and University of Washington— as well as representatives from LLI’s partner organizations to discuss the health and mental health issues confronting Latinx communities in Massachusetts and nationwide; how to enable agencies to deliver culturally and linguistically congruent social work practice; and how bridging social work practice and research can address challenges facing Latinx communities.

“We thought, ‘Why not go deep? Let’s bring in our social work colleagues as well as our community partners—like the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center and the Boston Public Schools—to look at what’s been done so far, and what we could do,’” said Calvo, crediting BCSSW Dean Gautam Yadama for suggesting the format. “I want to learn. We all want to learn. This is the way to do it.”

“A decade of Latinx Leadership Initiative indicates BCSSW’s national leadership in innovative social work practice,” said Yadama, who along with Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley will give a welcome at the event. “In convening prominent scholars and deans from other leading schools of social work, we look forward to paving the way toward a collective social work response to securing the well-being of Latinx communities nationwide.”

BCSSW Director of Community-Based Initiatives Yvonne Castañeda and faculty members Carolina Vélez-Grau, Kirsten Davison, Christopher Salas-Wright, and María Fernanda Piñeros-Leaño also will participate in the gathering.

Calvo—who cites LLI’s financial sustainability as an important challenge in the coming years—is gratified by the overall success of LLI, but it is the program’s smaller, everyday triumphs that mean the most to her.

“What keeps me going are the students,” she said. “To see them going to class, doing the work, discovering their strengths and abilities, and observe their transformation into caring professionals committed to improving people’s lives—that is our mission at its core.”

For more information about the Latinx Leadership Initiative, visit quinnhargitai.com/lli.