“Social work has made it a goal–and it’s part of our mission statement–to help vulnerable populations that don’t have a voice and to advocate for social justice,”says Professor Buttell from the Department of Social Work.
I sat down with Professor Buttell, who told me he was motivated to get involved in social work because of its multifaceted approach to solving social problems and helping marginalized communities and people negatively impacted by social policy. He attended the University of Alabama, earning a Master’s degree in social work. Social workers are involved in the legislative process and the court system, as well as one-on-one counseling services directed at specific cases. However, Buttell notes that advocating for social justice can be an easy thing to say, but can be really hard to actually put into action.
Before coming to Tulane, Professor Buttell worked in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as a professional social worker with the Domestic Violence Intervention Program. His fieldwork led him to complex research questions about the efficacy of the program that needed to be evaluated. “We didn’t really know if it was working and why it was working,” Buttell says. Questions like these inspired him to go back to school to get his Doctorate degree, expanding his skillset so that he could find answers.
In a career in social work “you encounter a lot of hardship, sadness, and unfairness,” he says. After years of working in various field positions with community organizations and experiencing the ways social policy affects people firsthand, Buttell transitioned to a career in academics. Working at Tulane, he remains “one step removed” by working with community organizations as an additional resource for evaluating their programs and policies. One of the uplifting aspects of teaching at Tulane for him is that “you have these really bright, young, energetic, motivated people who are going to change the world, and I get to see and be around them.”
The Tulane School of Social Work offers an undergraduate coordinate major in Social Policy and Practice, which combines coursework from multiple disciplines to give students a comprehensive grasp on social policy and welfare. The coordinate major builds on preexisting programs at Tulane, combining majors in economics, political science, and sociology. Professor Buttell helped create the Social Policy and Practice coordinate major and teaches a variety of courses pertaining to social policy, research methods, and social work.
Some advice that Professor Buttell has for prospective students entering the field of social work is that social consciousness and social awareness has to translate into social action. He suggests volunteering to find out what’s going on in the community where you live, either permanently or in New Orleans. It’s also important to “match your passion to an agency” so that students can be aware of and involved with the social issues relevant to them and their community.
I took Intro to Social Policy and Practice with Professor Buttell and thought the course was a great opportunity to learn about social issues in a deeper context through engaging and enthusiastic lectures combined with thought-provoking classroom discussions. He is extremely passionate about his work and his classes, and that excitement shines through in his classes. Buttell teaches the intro Social Policy and Practice course in the fall semester as well as a Capstone Social Policy and Practice class in the spring, but he is taking a sabbatical next semester, so unfortunately you’ll have to wait to experience Buttell’s inspiring teaching first-hand.