Benta Opiyo first entered the University of Utah’s Master of Social Work (MSW) program in 2014. Now, she’s not sure she’ll ever leave the U.
“I’ve worked here for a year,” said Opiyo, a victim-survivor advocate in the U’s Center for Student Wellness. “I had a few jobs after graduating from the U’s MSW program in 2016, but hopefully this will be my last because I love it and I would love to stay here.”
Opiyo is one of two victim-survivor advocates at the U who are also MSW alums. The center’s assistant director of advocacy, Ellie Goldberg, is also a victim-survivor advocate and graduated from the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) program in 2011 and earned her MSW in 2012. The center is also currently staffed with its first social work practicum students—one MSW and one BSW.
“It’s a really amazing time for our office because we have U College of Social Work graduates coming back and serving our campus community in a very powerful, impactful way,” said Goldberg. “And at the same time, we’re able to be a training ground for social work students.”
The victim-survivor advocates work with students, faculty and staff who have experienced interpersonal violence (IPV) such as sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, sexual harassment, family violence and stalking. They look at how trauma from IPV is impacting a person and all areas of their wellness, explore options, and empower their clients to make informed decisions about their safety, healing and justice.
“What’s really important is that we stick with them through the resource connection process,” said Goldberg. “We don’t just tell them where they need to go and hope they get there. We’ll help them navigate filing a police report, finding a tutor, whatever it is that they need that’s going to help them succeed after experiencing trauma.”
Goldberg said the education and training that comes from the social work program is an excellent fit for the work they do.
“Advanced generalist practice is very in-demand across the country and that’s a big focus of the College of Social Work,” said Goldberg. “It’s important in our work to be able to address a lot of different issues that are impacting people because each person has their own unique experience, strengths and challenges.”
For Opiyo, doing this work for the institution that trained her has special meaning.
“It means a lot because I feel like I’m giving back,” said Opiyo. “Coming back here felt like coming back home and I think I’m able to understand many of the experiences students may be going through too, since I was also a student here. I’m so happy to be here and to be able to share all the U gave me to help serve the campus community.”