Thursday, October 25, 2007

Paranoia and resolve

Early this morning I sat down with Professor Fun to review my options. She agreed that it would be a good idea to wait until I've passed my first semester of fieldwork, and proven I'm working at a second-year level. I told her about the concerns several readers have expressed -- namely, the damage Dean Evillene could wreak upon me if I complained about how the internship department bungled my case.

"Dean Evillene can't fail you if your supervisor passes you," said Professor Fun. "She can't keep you from graduating if your fieldwork is good. You said Melanie and your agency are happy with your work so far."

"They are," I said. "It's hard to believe, sometimes. My last supervisor was extremely critical of me. Every supervision session was a list of everything I did wrong. It was so stressful."

Professor Fun nodded grimly. "That's the wrong kind of supervision. Where were you again?" I told her. "I have some other students who are placed there -- and they're not happy."

"I feel their pain," I said. "But Dean Evillene is one of the most powerful social workers in New York City. If I complain about her department, maybe it would come back to haunt me when I try to get a job."

Professor Fun pondered that. "Ayelet, do you know there are local agencies that don't take social work interns from this school?"

"Is it because of the dean?"

"I'm pretty sure that not everyone in New York City loves her."

"My parents are worried about me," I told Professor Fun. "They think I'm still reeling from what happened to me at The Bad Place. They think I need therapy, not recourse."

"I'm a mother," said Professor Fun. "I would never advise you to do something that would bring you more harm than good. Dealing with this matter sounds very important to you, Ayelet. I can't tell you what to do, but you could go through the school's formal grievance process."

"I'm a little afraid of trusting this school," I said. "I'd almost rather go straight to the university administration -- like I am with the Miss Thing thing."

"I don't blame you for being wary. But these are two separate matters," said Professor Fun, "although they're related. I definitely encourage you to proceed with reporting the bias incident to the university. But I think you could try to negotiate with the internship department about getting rid of those 200 hours you supposedly owe. We can check with the Council on Social Work Education to see what the fieldwork requirements are for you to receive your degree. I'm pretty sure the school has you in field longer than necessary. When did they tell you that you owed those hours?"

"In August, right before I was supposed to stop working -- two weeks after everyone else finished," I said. "They expected me to work five days a week straight through August."

Professor Fun huffed in indignant sympathy. "If the internship department refuses to negotiate, you can file a formal grievance. I'll help you."

It was in this mode -- slightly suspicious and tense, although tremendously bolstered by Professor Fun's support -- that I went back to Professor Worried's clinical practice class. I wanted to let the class know that I was fine, and when the prof entered I suggested that I make a public service announcement.

"Not before I do," she said curtly.

Uh-oh. Did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? I was so unsettled that I misunderstood what she said. I thought she said that she was concerned about what happened last week, expected professional behavior from all of us, and would be speaking to some of us after class.

I panicked. I thought I was going to get yelled at for being such an uncannily good role-player. I got so wound up I couldn't really pay attention to what she was saying. It was a horrible adult version of "Just you wait until your father gets home!" I was so tense that when the professor pretended to be a spider crawling on my hand (I was sitting next to her, and we were discussing anxiety hierarchies) I jumped a mile. (I do hate spiders, but I don't always fall out of my chair when someone brushes my hand.)

Jerry, who is very intuitive to people's moods and states of mind, noticed that I was horribly tense about something, so when we split into duos to construct anxiety hierarchies he asked me to join him and we went off.

"What's the matter, Ayelet?" he asked.

"She's going to yell at me for being unprofessional," I twittered.

"No, she's not. She was talking about Norma," he said.

"Really?"

"Did you notice where she was looking?" he asked.

"No -- I was looking down. I was afraid to look at her."

"She was looking straight at Norma. Remember how after she was done talking, Norma asked a homework question and intimated that a lot of people were confused, and Prof. Worried said, 'You have to ask for yourself, Norma, not the other students.'"

"Oh," I said.

And he was right. Prof. Worried wasn't mad at me. At all. But I was so overwrought that I barely made it through the rest of class. I ran across town to have lunch with Boaz and Bella, a friend visiting from out of town, and recounted the events to them. They agreed with Jerry. Still, I was exhausted -- I felt like I'd watched Schindler's List.

Melanie has also been very supportive. She thinks the experience I'm getting by standing up to the school is priceless advocacy practice that most students won't get before graduation. And I'm inclined to think she's right. The agency is happy with my work because I do good work. I will complete this internship assignment -- and, if my clients have anything to say about it, I will then come straight to work for the agency ;) [Too bad they're not the ones making the hiring decisions.]

I need to go through with this advocacy because I can. I had no recourse at The Bad Place. I have it now, and to ignore it and seek solace in therapy would not help. I am proceeding on solid ground, I have support and backing, and I need to feel like I can take care of myself and stand up for myself. The world is full of injustice, but that doesn't mean I have to tolerate all the unjust things people do to me. I am proceeding cautiously but with determination, and -- moreover -- with the encouragement of social workers I respect and trust.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

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