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Spotlight on Walden // Jun 10, 2021

Creating Safe Spaces and Opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ Community

Wherever he goes, Joshua Torres Hassett wants to create safe spaces and opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ community. That includes teaching social work students in Florida, singing in the Orlando Gay Chorus, and serving as membership chair for Walden’s LGBTQ+/PRIDE student organization.

“It’s very important for people to have an opportunity to express themselves as their identity and true selves,” says Torres Hassett, a Walden University PhD in Social Work student. “If we’re doing that, then we know we’re doing our job.”

“Joshua is a leader and inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies,” says Dr. Christie Jenkins, faculty liaison to the LGBTQ+/PRIDE student group and core faculty in Walden’s MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. “We are lucky to have him at Walden.”

In addition to working with members of the LGBTQIA+ community at Walden, Torres Hassett will be focusing on identities and how they intersect at the core of his dissertation — in part because he sees himself as an exception. According to research from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), active social workers with a master’s degree or higher are 15 percent male and only 9.5 percent are Spanish, Hispanic or Latino. In addition to that underrepresentation, what’s unknown is the sexual orientation of social work students and professionals.

“I’ve known people who have that intersection of gender, race and sexual orientation who enroll in higher education and then drop out,” says Torres Hassett. “My hypothesis is that we don’t have greater representation because in academia we don’t offer a safe place for them. When they experience oppression in the form of microaggressions, they drop out, and it creates a gap in the workforce.”

One way that Torres Hassett is working toward greater inclusion is in his role as undergraduate academic coordinator at the Ana G. Mendez University campus in Orlando, Florida. He understands the importance of impacting the Latinx learning community by helping them become proficient in dual languages, hold jobs, and make a difference in people’s lives. He believes this is especially important in social work programs.

“Latinos are underrepresented within active social workers, with only 11 percent, according to the CSWE,” says Torres Hassett. “Knowing that I’m assisting in developing future social workers who are Latinx is so rewarding. I’ve fallen in love with academia, specifically within social work. I love the classroom, and that’s a passion I didn't know I had.”

Torres Hassett feels at home at Walden, especially after experiencing barriers at other universities. He didn’t let those barriers get in the way of his dream and took a closer look at Walden.

“I’ve had an amazing experience at Walden,” says Torres Hassett. “Walden’s virtual library is a beautiful tool. I use it all day.”

You can also find Torres Hassett in Walden’s student Facebook groups, which he finds motivational.

“The Facebook groups have given me a way to engage with my classmates outside of the classroom,” says Torres Hassett. “In the doctoral group, we’re constantly supporting each other and asking questions. It offers me an outlet to put my experience out there. I put positivity into the group, and that’s what I get back.”

Even with his dissertation ahead of him, Torres Hassett is excited about additional opportunities outside of Walden. He is a committee member for CSWE’s Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression. The council “promotes the development of social work curriculum materials and faculty growth opportunities relevant to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and the experiences of individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or two-spirit.”

“After Walden, I really want to continue engaging in research that addresses the intersection of the Latinx community, the LGBTQIA+ community and higher education,” says Torres Hassett. “I want to discover more knowledge so we can implement positive social change within our own communities and others.”

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