Faculty Focus Friday is a Q&A series that highlights individual faculty members in various academic programs around Spalding University. In celebration of Social Work Month in March, today’s featured faculty member is Dr. Shannon Cambron, Professor and Faculty Chair for the Spalding School of Social Work. Dr. Cambron, a longtime Spalding faculty member who became social work chair in 2018, holds three degrees from the university – a bachelor’s, a Master of Social Work and a Doctorate of Education (EdD): Leadership. Dr. Cambron, who was a 2018 Bingham Fellow, is leading Spalding’s launch of the first Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program in Louisville and one of the first in Kentucky this fall (pending SACSCOC approval), and she is an organizer of the School of Social Work’s upcoming annual public conference, on March 27, focused on understanding and combating institutional racism. (Register here.)
What do you like about working and teaching at Spalding?
I am a triple alumna of Spalding, and I am actually the second of three generations of women who graduated from Spalding. Obviously I have an investment to Spalding and have decided that this is a good place to be. What appealed to me as a student and educator was the emphasis on building relationships with students as the best vehicle for learning and teaching, and that it is a collaborative process. I learn just as much from my students as they ever do from me. Spalding creates a safe space for all students that really allows them to come with a passion to know and understand something. Spalding allows us to explore the whys and hows of things in our lives and our community, but we can do it in an environment where I have 20 students that I get to know and build relationships with. I have the opportunity to let them learn to trust me, and out of that trust come incredible learning experiences for all of us. Additionally, I appreciate that Spalding is a social justice institution, and we can have difficult conversations that other institutions would not even try to tackle. We can boldly have these conversations about institutional racism, redlining and bias, and that is something we do on a daily basis. We create a space for our students to have these conversations. I am considered by many to be a radical social justice individual, but the cool thing is you can have a radical social justice change agent find a comfortable home at Spalding.
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What is your academic specialty, areas of expertise or research?
I am a social worker by trade, and my doctorate is in educational leadership. That has afforded me this really cool space to be able to function within higher education and bring those social justice causes into this arena. My primary focus of research is racial equity and addressing the implications of institutional racism as it shows up in and throughout our community. Also, (that includes) focusing on how that plays out with young adults in our community and how that is expressed oftentimes through what the community perceives to be acts of violence and aggression. My research indicates that it is simply the same kind of push-back responses we might have had when I was young, but when I was young I didn’t have cellphones that gave me immediate access to potentially escalate something to the point of no return. I firmly believe institutional and systemic racism plays a huge part in the escalation of these behaviors for our young adults.
Why is social work a good option for students to consider?
The world needs to change. There is no way, no matter your age that you can get up and not be impacted by something that is happening, unfortunately in a negative capacity – whether it is the long-term impact of the federal budget deficit, or scaled-back protections of the environment, or that racism is alive and well. It is there, and it is bold and aggressively stealing life out of communities. So if you wake up and you see that, your response is going to be one of two things: Either this does not impact me, or, this is not the world I want to be in. If your response is the last one, then social work is the place for you, because it is the profession that says your job is to make the world a better place.
What is an interesting thing that you keep in your office?
My Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure, because that was a gift from my daughter. The idea that I am making the connection and she is seeing the connection then it shows I am helping the next generation recognize that it is not just Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself but what she represents. The second thing in my office I love is this coffee cup that talks about the 100 years of women’s suffrage, and 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of women earning the right to vote. This cup was a gift from my aunt this year. Both of these were gifts from women in my life who are really important.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Seeing students come to life. There is a quote that has become a part of my core these past few years by Howard Thurman. The quote says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, because what the world really needs is people who have come alive.” So watching students come alive, having them start their journey and preparing to be a social worker and being a part of their journey and reaching the point of graduation, you know they are launching into the thing that they envisioned a couple years ago. Since we are a small institution and we get to know our students, I sit up on that platform at graduation and I watch students walk in front of me and I know where they are going and what they are going to do. You had the honor of stepping into the journey with that student and that they are going to leave that platform and change the world.
At Spalding, we like to say, “Today is a great day to change the world.” How do you think your role at Spalding is helping you change the world or the world of your students?
I think the position I am in right now is one I am very humbled by and one that gives me the chance to model some things that I have grown up believing and that I have developed a professional focus on. And a lot of that has to do with servant leadership and transformational leadership. For me, changing the world every day is pulling into this campus in my car and recommitting myself to this job. If I am doing the work that I am called to do to the best of my ability and finding new ways every day to try to be better, that impacts the faculty I am privileged to work with, and they go out and impact students, and those students impact the community. It is an overwhelming feeling pulling into the parking lot knowing that I get to go in and do this job, and if I am granted the opportunity to do it well, then maybe I have a chance of making a difference in a student’s life and the community is all the better for it because that student becomes the change agent.
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