Working tirelessly to support the mission of prominent human rights defenders — Malala Yousafzai, Elie Wiesel, Van Jones, et al. — are thousands of social workers who shape policy and curriculum at the ground level.
As Stony Brook University Assistant Dean of Student Services in the School of Social Welfare, Robin DeLuca-Acconi, PhD, is one of those. DeLuca-Acconi has been a clinical instructor faculty member since 2015, and has written curriculum for the Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work programs here.
Prior to that she spent 20 years as a school social worker in the Cold Spring Harbor District, coordinating social and emotional learning programs and organizing school climate projects designed to increase school connectedness.
Deluca-Acconi became involved in organizations that supported human rights at the state level. She also committed herself to teaching tolerance and compassion to her Cold Spring Harbor students.
She was just getting started. With the solidarity of seven other women, she helped create a non-profit called What Better Looks Like, which dedicated itself to community-building workshops and sending students from Rwanda to universities.
“One of our founding members survived the genocide there and if anyone knows how important it is to spread compassion it is someone who has looked hatred in the eye and understands firsthand the destruction that occurs when one neighbor is taught to dehumanize another,” she said.
Her next stop was enrolling in the PhD program at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare. “Their mission of social justice was my harbor in the tempest of a world that seemed to be veering off course,” she said.
She began devouring research on social policy and the science behind policy analysis, looking for ways to help mitigate poverty, inequality and violence but realized she saw the paradigm shifting toward policy inflicting suffering, bias and xenophobia.
“As social workers we are forced to see the pain that poor policy, system injustice and bias rhetoric inflicts,” she said. “Some may be able to look away from the impact of policy and if there is no direct impact to them, they are able to go on with their lives unscathed.”
DeLuca-Acconi became affiliated with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights as a member of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) Political Action and Fair Trade Committee. RFK Human Rights later partnered with Discovery Education, the leading provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms, to bring an initiative known as Speak Truth to Power: Raising New Voices in Human Rights. She was able to apply that initiative, which worked for her high school students, to the curriculum at the SBU School of Social Welfare.
“I brought the idea to Jacqueline Mondros, DSW, the School’s Dean, and she helped create a memorandum of agreement with the RFK Human Rights organization,” said DeLuca-Acconi.
She and Dr. Wendy Moss, a school psychologist she had worked with for roughly 12 years, co-authored School Made Easier, a guide to help students deal with anxiety disorders and social struggles.
In addition to teaching two classes a semester at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare, DeLuca-Acconi works with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights as a trainer and researcher reinforcing social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Dr. Moss nominated DeLuca-Acconi for the 2017 Social Worker of the Year for Suffolk County, which she won before moving on to also win the New York State Social Worker of the Year.
In her acceptance speech she said, “Thank you for this award. It has helped to revive me. Being a part of the National Association of Social Workers is a source of strength because it is an organization that espouses social work’s core values of service: social justice, dignity and self-worth.”
— Glenn Jochum