Oct. 9, 2019

New social work scholarship supports next generation of 'troublemakers'

Yvonne A. Stanford Graduate Scholarship for Economic Equality supports grad students focused on working for social justice
Yvonne Stanford, left, and social work prof Liza Lorenzett, right, at Pride parade with a friend.

Yvonne Stanford, left, and social work prof Liza Lorenzett, right, at Pride parade with a friend.

Courtesy Yvonne Stanford

The polite term for people like Yvonne Stanford, BSW’76, is “disruptor.” The less-polite term, one she suggests with a laugh, might be “troublemaker” or “rabble-rouser.” Either label suits her fine, because, whatever you want to call her, Stanford has spent her life as a change-maker advocating for social justice.

Her family recently decided to mark her 80th birthday by honouring her lifelong commitment working for economic equality, gender equity and social justice by creating the Yvonne A. Stanford Graduate Scholarship for Economic Equality in the Faculty of Social Work.

“I'm a little bit embarrassed by it all,” admits Stanford. “I love the idea of it. I wasn't that fussy about having my name on it. But essentially my kids said, ‘Suck it up.’”

A lifelong commitment to social justice

Social justice is the core value that attracted Stanford to take her Bachelor of Social Work at UCalgary in the mid-1970s, after having completed degrees in economics and education elsewhere. However, after graduating, she never actually practised social work. As she explains it, the emphasis at the time was less on social justice and more on clinical social work.

“In my opinion, the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work was [at the time] focused more on service and clinical work, with not much focus on growing activists who would change the world,” explains Stanford. “I decided not to do social work. I decided I could earn my living more efficiently with my previous degrees while doing volunteer work. And that’s worked out fine for me.”

Stanford worked for a few years in managerial accounting and auditing in oil and gas before deciding she could find more meaningful use of her diverse skill set in non-profit management. She became executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, took a couple of years to help build the Canadian Peace Alliance as a volunteer, and then moved on to become program manager of YWCA Calgary. She was also the Alberta representative for the National Action Committee on the Status of Women and served on the board of Oxfam Canada.

While with Oxfam, Stanford really resonated with their mission to end global poverty beginning with women’s rights. That association led to her more recent work with the Advisory Council to Basic Income Canada, as co-chair of Calgary Basic Income Action Group and, as she puts it, “a home” with Calgary Social Workers for Social Justice.

A focus on 'changing the way things are'

All of Stanford’s endeavours in social and economic justice have a common theme: They’re focused on changing the way things are, not just fixing short-term problems.

“I think the theme is that, as social workers, our answers are not going to be a focus on helping people fill out forms, navigate regulations and clinical work,” she says. “Not to say that won't always be necessary, but, as a profession, I hope we can balance that [clinical practice] with more, ‘Let’s change the whole foundation of how we look at inequality and hardship.’”

Only 'positive disruptors' need apply

The new scholarship in Stanford’s name is hopefully another step in that direction. She says the Faculty of Social Work’s Positive Disruption event series, and recent focus on social justice and social change, started the conversation with her and her family.

“Watching the last few years what is happening in the faculty, the students I’m meeting, the courses they’re taking and their vision for what they can do as social workers... I think those conversations with my family kind of spurred the idea of the scholarship,” Stanford says. “I’m hoping the scholarship can give a hand up to grad students who actually want to be social workers who change the world — not just social workers who fix up some of the problems.”

On behalf of the family, James Stanford, OC, president of Stanford Resource Management Inc., says his family was pleased to create the $50,000 endowment to mark her 80th birthday as a way to acknowledge the tremendous community-building and social justice work she’s done over the years.

“A scholarship seemed like an appropriate way to recognize and, to some degree, add some permanence to the recognition of all of the work that Yvonne has done through her career in the area of equality and justice,” James says. “The paths she has chosen and the tools she has used have all been focused on bettering the community and the world, and that's really what the scholarship is recognizing.”

The Yvonne A. Stanford Graduate Scholarship for Economic Equality is open to any graduate student in the Faculty of Social Work who is pursuing a degree aimed at social policy change and social justice.

The gift from the Stanford family is part of the University of Calgary’s ongoing fundraising campaign, Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, the university’s most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history. Funds raised through the campaign will support student experiences, research outcomes and community connections. The campaign is currently 97 per cent toward its overall goal of $1.3 billion.