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UGA professor receives national social work honor

June Gary Hopps portrait-v
June Gary Hopps

Athens, Ga. – The National Association of Social Workers has named June Gary Hopps, University of Georgia Thomas M. “Jim” Parham Professor of Family and Children’s Studies, a NASW Social Work Pioneer®.

The NASW Social Work Pioneer® Program recognizes those who have contributed to the evolution and enrichment of social work and who serve as role models for future generations of social workers. Hopps was among 12 individuals inducted into the program on Oct. 26 in Washington, D.C.

“Dr. Hopps has made enormous contributions to the cause of social justice and to social work education, from her involvement in the historic Atlanta student sit-ins to her national leadership as a scholar, teacher and administrator,” said Maurice C. Daniels, dean of UGA’s School of Social Work. “The School of Social Work joins the NASW in saluting this eminent pioneer in social work.”

Growing up in central Florida during the period of de jure segregation, Hopps was encouraged from an early age to question the status quo.

“We were raised in a family in which we were taught to respect all cultures and at the same time address social and economic inequality,” said Hopps. Her parents, a schoolteacher and a businessman who also raised cattle, encouraged all five of their children to earn college degrees. Four-including Hopps-earned doctorates.

While working on her undergraduate degree in political science and history at Spelman College, Hopps became active in the civil rights movement. In 1960, she helped to organize and participated in the first student sit-in and lunch-counter boycotts in Atlanta, which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of public facilities in that city.

After earning a master’s degree in social work at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) and a doctorate in planning and policy at Brandeis University, Hopps joined the faculty at Ohio State University. Four years later she joined Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work as the youngest dean in the school’s history.

Over the next 24 years at Boston College, Hopps took the small school to national prominence. She established three joint graduate and professional degree programs with law, business and pastoral counseling; started a doctoral program in research-driven, proactive social work; and expanded opportunities for graduate education in social work throughout New England. The school rose to rank 14th in the nation, according to the U.S. News & World Report, and faculty publication rankings rose to the top 10, according to a study in the Journal of Social Work Education.

“June Gary Hopps has consistently been a leader in national efforts to build a research base for the profession,” said Gary Bailey, president of the International Federation of Social Workers. “She is the embodiment of what a true social work pioneer is. It is an honor that is long overdue.”

During her tenure at Boston College, Hopps was the first African-American to serve as editor-in-chief of Social Work, the NASW’s journal. As editor, she established writing workshops that brought more women and people of color into research publication. A special issue of the journal on problems experienced by non-whites is considered a landmark publication by those in the social work profession. Hopps also co-edited the 19th edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work, a classic reference work for social work practitioners that was selected as one of the best books of 1995 by Change, a magazine that covers contemporary issues in higher education.

“Some of the phrases we now use in the profession come out of her writing,” said Tony Lowe, associate professor of social work at UGA. “She resurrected such terms as ‘person of color,’ in disuse since the early 20th century, which shifted scholarly language to be more inclusive.”

At UGA, Hopps continues to teach and conduct research, and oversees Parham Policy Day, an annual event that brings leading national and state figures to the university to speak with students about public policy issues. Past speakers include Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt; June Hopkins, granddaughter of New Deal architect Harry Hopkins; and former Georgia Commissioner of Labor Michael Thurmond, among others.

“She has always been interested in how public policies ‘stack the deck’ in favor of the wealthy to the deprivation of poor people, and she has been unflagging in her calls for public attention to those who are not given attention,” said Tom Holland, professor emeritus and founding director of the UGA School of Social Work doctoral program, who has known Hopps for more than 40 years.

Hopps has authored or co-authored six books and numerous scholarly articles. She has been active in the Council on Social Work Education and served as president of the National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work. Her many honors include recognition by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for outstanding public service and the NASW Presidential Award for Excellence in Social Work Education. In 2005, Spelman College named the June Gary Hopps Atrium in her honor.