Headlines (Campus Updates)
Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work
Social Work’s first graduating class celebrates 40th anniversary
Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
The first graduating class of Laurier’s Master of Social Work program celebrated their 40th anniversary this year during a weekend reunion. Members of the class of 1968 gathered with former dean Dr. Frank Turner at the Faculty of Social Work’s new home in the old St. Jerome’s high school building in Kitchener.
After the weekend’s events, which included a tour of the building, a reception and tree-planting ceremony, Airdrie Thompson-Guppy and Joan Gilmore, two of 21 graduates, spoke to Laurier’s social work class of 2010 about the remarkable cultural shifts they have seen in the field of social work over the years.
When Thompson-Guppy first arrived in Waterloo, she had a year-old daughter and couldn’t find a job because everywhere she applied she was told she had “to stay home and look after her child.” She ended up volunteering to run a boys group home in St. Agatha, which led to her finding paid employment at Grand River Hospital. However, it was clear to her that she would need more education to move forward.
“I spoke directly to Frank Turner about taking just one class,” Thompson-Guppy told the audience on Monday morning. Turner informed her that the university was not offering its brand new social work program part-time.
“To my surprise, weeks later I got a letter saying ‘welcome to the Faculty of Social Work,’” she said. She had been accepted into the program as a full-time student, and she decided to make the best of it as a student and mother.
Three other students in the program had children. When they graduated, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record wrote an article about them that said, “They not only had studies and exams to worry about … but also had to look after their husbands, their children and their homes.
“The four plan to relax after their two years of academic trail-blazing and get caught up on many things they previously had little or no time for,” the article continued, which listed “cleaning closets, putting in gardens, and spending more time with the children” as examples. Their professional careers, however, were far from over.
The times were different for the male students as well, who were told they would have to shave their beards if they wanted to stay in the program.
“Our appearance was one of the most important parts of our job,” said Thompson-Guppy. “Men had to be in a suit and tie, with a hanky in pocket and polished shoes, and always had to wear a hat in court – if we had the right appearance, then we could go out and do what was called ‘social work.’”
“We were taught that if we were successful, the clients would be like us,” said Gilmore, explaining the students were all white and middle class.
After a tour of the faculty’s new home, Gilmore and Thompson-Guppy were impressed. “Not with the building – that was nice – and not the technology – that was nice too – but we found the prayer room and the aboriginal room the most impressive,” said Gilmore. “Today we acknowledge that everyone is not the same.”
Gilmore, who went to law school in Washington, DC shortly after graduating, noted that it was interesting to see how members of the class of ’68 had all evolved differently. “Very few of us stayed in the field of social work, but social work was a good basis for all our careers.”
Thompson-Guppy opened a private clinic in her home in 1978 after working as the director of social work at a hospital for sick children in Ottawa.
“Frank Turner talked on Saturday about how hard it was to get the school organized and running – the challenges, the politics,” she said to the first-year class. “We joke now about the problems we faced, but we really think this is the best school in the country. If you’re a graduate of Laurier you’re miles ahead, and you’ll all enjoy such wonderful opportunities.”