For Judy L. Postmus, PhD, ACSW, having a diverse student body and faculty is of the utmost importance in her new role as the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) dean.
“For people who seek social services, it is important that social services education students represent their community,” said Postmus, who started July 1, 2020. “It is important to have role models, but it is more important to have a culture of humility. Regardless of what background you have, we all can learn from each other and respect people for being different.”
She said she will work to add diversity to the faculty. In the past, the school has been criticized by social work students and alumni for a lack of diversity in its faculty.
“We don’t hire you just because you look a certain way,” she said. “We hire you to enhance our culture. We embrace diversity in all its forms. It’s not easy to do, but it is important. It’s crucial.”
She also noted that the size of the faculty and diversity of its student population are similar to those at Rutgers University, where she had been a professor and associate dean for research and faculty development at its School of Social Work when UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, appointed her to become the next UMSSW dean.
Back in mid-February, before most faculty, staff, and students scattered to the COVID-19 world of teleworking and remote learning, Postmus made her first — and only — visit to UMSSW before accepting the position. But Postmus, who is the second female dean and the seventh dean overall since UMSSW’s founding in 1961, said it was a memorable one.
“It left such a good impression,” said Postmus, who succeeded Dean Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, who led UMSSW for 14 years and continues to teach as a professor. “Faculty and staff and students at the school were the greatest. I thought they were patient and dedicated and really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives in a variety of ways.”
During her visit to Baltimore, Postmus learned about Promise Heights, an initiative led by the School of Social Work to improve the lives of children and families in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Upton/Druid Heights.
“I was blown away by the work that they are doing and the commitment they have to helping others,” said Postmus, who has a passion and a history of helping those who are oppressed based on race, gender, and class. She also is a nationally known scholar on intimate partner violence.
Born and raised in Miami to immigrant parents, Postmus began working with at-risk youth and their families in Liberty City, Fla., an environment where racism and poverty were rampant, and violence erupted in response in this disenfranchised community. After earning her MSW degree at Barry University in 1990, Postmus worked at Miami Bridge, a runaway and homeless youth shelter in Miami, and then as executive director of the Domestic Abuse Shelter in the Florida Keys.
When she visited UMB, Postmus also was impressed by UMSSW’s Institute for Innovation and Implementation and the service it provides to the state of Maryland. The institute supports state and local governments and organizations in implementing and sustaining effective systems and clinical practices that promote system of care values and best meet the needs of children and youth involved in the public systems and their families.
“There are a lot of reasons to be impressed with the school,” Postmus said.
Already a strong advocate of distance learning, Postmus said she will be busy fine-tuning a robust online education system for the school.
“As adults, we all learn differently. Some can thrive in an online environment and others don’t. The pandemic forced everyone to be online,” Postmus said. “The challenge as we move forward is thinking of three different types of instruction: fully online, fully on the ground, and those in between. Somewhere there has to be some blend until things stabilize. I know there is a fear that fully online is not quality education, and I beg to differ.”
In a letter to the UMB community, Jarrell said the goal was to find a new dean who demonstrates the ability to be an effective champion for the role of social work and its programs throughout the state, and to harness the strengths and commitment of the faculty, staff, and students to be catalysts for a compelling vision of the future of social work at UMB.
“I am confident that we have succeeded in that with the appointment of Judy Postmus,” Jarrell said.