Two Heads (at least!) Are Better than One: The Importance of Collaboration in Social Justice Initiatives – Viki Rasmussen

Time for Reflection

Last week, I graduated with master’s degrees in social work and public health. It was a week full of celebration and excitement and I began to wonder what would come next (no job yet, but lots of hopes and expectations!).  Now, in the post-graduation lull, I am thankful to simply have some time to reflect on my education—both in and out of the classroom—over the past three years. In considering the many lessons that I have learned, the importance of interdisciplinary work, particularly when addressing social issues such as poverty, employment barriers and civil rights, resonated intensely.

Professional Silos

I vividly remember a fear that a friend vocalized upon accepting an offer to attend graduate school: every educational and professional decision she had made leading up to that point had only opened more doors for her, but now, as she took a step toward fulfilling her dream of becoming a teacher, she felt as though doors were closing behind her for the first time. This fear is grounded in the unfortunate truth that, too often, we become more siloed as we advance in our careers—teachers focus on teaching, public health professionals on disease eradication, and business leaders on how to raise the bottom line. The isolation that results from these seemingly impenetrable silos is not only damaging to individual professional development, but it also impedes progress toward social justice.

Collaboration and Interdisciplinary Partnerships

As a dual degree graduate student I had the opportunity to be steeped in the perspectives and skillsets of both the public health and social work fields. In my public health work, I focused on reproductive and sexual health from a health systems perspective while my social work education emphasized clinical skills and human-centric management practices. Progressing through both programs simultaneously illuminated the distinct strengths that practitioners from each background possess and the possibilities for advancement of social causes that emerge from meaningful collaboration between experts from the two fields.

Last summer provided a unique opportunity for me to engage further in interdisciplinary experiences through working and learning alongside MBA student peers at REDF. My colleagues’ abilities to assess the financial viability of an Employment Social Enterprise was impressive and their analytical, business-minded approach to problem solving meant that I confronted a steep learning curve in my efforts just to be a part of our conversations. My contribution to our team was offering a constant reminder that the challenges confronting Employment Social Enterprises mirror the enormous challenges that have been facing anti-poverty advocates and the organizations that employ them for over a century. Together, my Farber peers and I learned a tremendous amount about the value of interdisciplinary cooperation, even during our brief summer internship.

As we were reminded again and again throughout the summer, participation in the workforce is a cornerstone of the American dream. To ensure that all individuals are able to engage meaningfully in our society, we need all hands on deck, working together, across disciplines, with respect and curiosity about each other’s varied perspectives and skillsets. Not only will this kind of collaboration lead to more innovative, thoughtful and successful social justice initiatives, but it will also help break down the walls of our professional silos. Through continuous conversation across disciplines, we can more deeply engage in our work while expanding our professional communities and understanding of the world.

Viki Rasmussen is concurrently pursuing an MPH and an MSW in Social Enterprise Administration at Columbia University. Viki has a wide range of direct service experience working with adults with severe and persistent mental illness to address barriers to meaningful employment, counseling women about reproductive decisions and providing legal services to LGBTQ homeless youth. Through her advocacy and legislative experience, she has coordinated a youth-focused town hall meeting in the Bronx as a community organizing intern, reported on proposed state legislation and analyzed legislative trends regarding reproductive health, and conducted research on the reproductive health consequences of intimate partner violence. Viki holds a BA in Africana Studies from Brown University where she also studied abroad in Durban, South Africa.

This is part of REDF’s Farber blog series.