Tackling Big Issues with the Power of Policy – an interview with Victoria Crouse
Victoria (Vikki) Crouse, MSW, is a State Policy Fellow at the Michigan League for Public Policy. She graduated in 2017 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work with a specialization in Community, Management & Policy Practice. This past summer, Vikki sat down with Dr. Marie Weil, Professor Emeritus, to talk about her social work journey to date. Highlights from that conversation are shared below.
The Draw to Social Work Macro Practice
Vikki shared that her parents migrated to the U.S. from Mexico in search of better opportunities. Growing up, she witnessed first-hand the way immigration policies can exclude communities and create barriers for people to full participation in American life. Based on these lived experiences, Vikki wanted to be a part of the conversation by weighing in on key issues that impact the lives of immigrants and others, and advocating for just policies. Before her time as an MSW student, Vikki didn’t know what a career path in the world of policy looked like. Through internships and with mentorship from professors at the School of Social Work, she came to understand the role she could play in influencing public policy using both direct and macro practice skill sets.
Lessons from Class and Field
Vikki attributes much of her learning to her second-year internship at the NC Justice Center, where she discovered r the role of macro social workers in public policy. She paired her interest in immigration policy with her research project for the evaluation of social work interventions course, completing a statewide survey of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients in North Carolina to measure the impact of the program on their lives.
During her internship at the Justice Center, Vikki also studied workforce development policies, spending several weeks researching apprenticeship programs and interviewing program directors. She used her research to write a policy brief about the state’s apprenticeship program and ways the state can strengthen and expand the program as a tool for growing North Carolina’s skilled workforce.
In terms of specific policy skills, Vikki learned effective ways for tracking down reliable sources around policy issues as well as how to tell stories with data, and make research accessible to communities. She also gained skills in strategic communications and learned how to write persuasively on policy issues for different audiences.
Two academic classes that prepared Vikki for the work she is doing now included Professor Josh Henson’s US Citizenship and immigration policy course and Laurie Seltz-Campbell’s Citizenship Participation and Volunteer Recruitment course. Vikki used the skills she gained in those courses in her fieldwork at the Justice Center and now in her current job. During her time at the School of Social Work, Vikki was also involved in advocacy as one of the chairs for the Social Work Student Latinx Caucus. She and her co-chairs worked to make the Caucus meetings a safe and supportive space for Latinx students, and also planned educational events on issues affecting the Latinx community, like immigration policy.
Michigan League for Public Policy
In her interview, Vikki highlighted that she uses the “wide range of policy skills” she gained through the social work program in her work at the Michigan League for Public Policy. For example, she recently wrote a policy report on the impact of a personal income tax rate reduction on families in Michigan. She underscored that, while fiscal policy is not really taught at the school of social work, through her internship at the Justice Center, she learned how state tax policies and the state budget are crucial tools for tackling issues like hunger and poverty in states.
Vikki shared that she has recently been working with an immigrant rights organization called the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center on a campaign to stop a dangerous proposed federal regulation. She explained, “this rule will be really harmful to immigrant families and children and will negatively impact their access to important public programs and services like housing assistance and heath care.” Vikki and her colleagues have built a statewide policy campaign called Protecting Immigrant Families Michigan to educate communities and stakeholders and mobilize them to submit a public comment to the Department of Homeland Security to stop this proposed rule. They created a website that has resources for the community as well as a rapid response strategy to move people to take action. Working together with community partners, they have been able to build a campaign list of over 500 advocates, direct service providers, and community members who are actively engaging on this issue.
Policy and the Media
Vikki and her colleagues are often asked to provide expert guidance to the press on issues that affect the well-being of low- and middle- income families. They do this by putting together press releases, conducting press conferences, providing quotes to reporters, and speaking on radio and television interviews. Vikki talked about some of the strategic media communication she did on a report she wrote about the benefits of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) for recipients in Michigan. That report gave her the opportunity to do a series of radio interviews to share the research and talk about the serious harm that would come to young immigrant “Dreamers” if the federal government ended the program. Vikki also learned how opinion pieces in newspapers can serve as an effective medium for drawing attention to important policy issues. Vikki recently wrote an opinion piece on an anti-immigrant bill that would make English the official language in Michigan, tying it to her own personal experiences learning English as a child.
Over the past year, Vikki has grown the MLPP’s capacity for work in immigration policy. In just her first year post graduation, Vikki has carried herself as an exemplar of how social workers can advocate for marginalized communities in the public policy arena. As she moves forward in her career, and having recently returned to North Carolina, we know she will continue to lead with integrity and heart – and we can’t wait to be a part of what she does next!