School of social work lends perspective on off-campus learning

Social work students give their perspective on what is it like to go to school off of Baylor's main campus. The Diana R. Garland School of Social Work is located in an old Wells Fargo Bank in downtown Waco. Lariat File Photo.

By Adrienne Redman | Reporter

Walking into the Baylor School of Social Work often leaves people wondering if they have walked into the wrong building. Located at 811 Washington Ave. in downtown Waco, the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work campus thrives in a repurposed Wells Fargo bank.

The social work department at Baylor University outgrew its on-campus Speight Plaza offices in 2010 and moved downtown, where students say they are given a glimpse into how the real world of social work operates.

Rosemary Watson, a masters of social work student from Baton Rouge, La., decided to pursue a career in the field during her freshman year at Baylor.

“My family is deaf, so I’ve seen a lot of injustice and have really sought to help them find their voices and advocate for them,” Watson said. “That’s what got me in the direction of social justice.”

Watson changed her major from business within the first week of the semester, and fell in love with social work during the introductory class. The building has served as a safe-space for her, where she can experience and process the tough issues social work students face daily.

“You talk about a lot of really hard things. And so the spaces that you have where you need to process those things need to be safe,” Watson said. “When you’re on main campus, sometimes it may feel like those areas are not as safe because so many other things, other classes, other experiences, all happen there.”

Students like Watson have also felt comfort in the lobby of the social work building that sits at the top of the escalators, lovingly referred to as the “Living Room.” Complete with tables, couches and blankets, this gathering area serves as a place where students can interact with one another and find support.

“I know that if I was to be sitting in the lobby and start crying someone would check on me,” Watson said.

Sarah Pitman, another masters of social work student from Waco, loves the downtown campus for the bridge it creates between Baylor and the community that surrounds it. As an undergraduate, Pitman was a university scholars major and says she rarely left campus aside from the internship that eventually drew her to pursue a Masters in Social Work.

“It gives us a push to leave the Baylor bubble and to expose ourselves to things,” Pitman said. “In my mind it gives the Waco community more access to Baylor. It kind of bridges the gap between what they perceive Baylor as being and what we perceive the Waco community as being.”

The downtown building poses some logistical issues, however, as students may find it difficult traveling back and forth for on-campus classes. Students without vehicles often find rides from friends, as Watson did after breaking her shoulder last year.

“I put it in our class GroupMe that I needed rides and six people immediately were like, ‘I’ll come pick you up!” she said.

There is also a bus route to and from the building but it is not always reliable, according to Pitman.

“[The bus is] not the best and I’d say that’s a downside. It can be kind of inaccessible,” she said.

Despite the distance, the positives of having a Social Work Building downtown far outweigh the negatives for many students. For Pitman, it is the real-world experience her Social Work professors can impart, many of whom are currently practicing in Waco in addition to teaching classes. And for Watson, it is the safety and comfort she feels within the community of the building.

“At the School of Social Work it’s almost a sacred space,” Pitman said. “This space is one where you know you’re going to learn and be challenged, but also be supported.”