Alexa Garvey is a senior at Rutgers University–Camden who is graduating in the spring semester. At the ceremony in May when she receives her diploma, she will not only be receiving a Bachelor of Art (BA) degree in social work, but she will also be among the first students to receive a BA in the newly introduced gender studies major. Garvey is the first student to declare a gender studies major, which grew out of the women’s and gender studies minor, which morphed from the women’s studies minor at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year.  Prior to the formation of this major, past students had created individualized majors surrounding this topic, but now students will be able to declare themselves as gender studies majors. Garvey’s interest in this topic comes from an ongoing curiosity she’s always had for gender studies, as well as due to her own societal awareness.

“As a white, straight, able-bodied woman, I live a life of privilege,” states Garvey. “I feel it’s my duty to use that privilege to amplify marginalized voices. What better way to do that then by combining the power of social work practice with a comprehensive education on gender.”

She reveals however that originally she wasn’t sure about pursuing a career in social work. At one point in her life, her focus was on a different way to serve people: she performed for them.

 “I’m an entertainer at heart. I have a unique trait in that I love when people are looking at me; it’s when I’m most comfortable,” confesses the six-foot undergraduate student. “I went back to school at twenty-five years old and before that lived in Philadelphia and Orange County, California, chasing stand-up from Los Angeles to New York City and everywhere in between. What I love most about it is that I’m a clown. Obviously my words have meaning and impact, but up there I’m not “social worker” Alexa, I’m just a clown putting on a show.”

Aside from entertaining through spoken word, she also expresses herself through the written word.  This student has been published multiple times in publications such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, but more recently writes for her own zine, You Can Be Sad, in which she discusses the importance of mental health, especially among college students. However, putting these activities slightly aside, her main focus now is geared toward using her knowledge in gender studies in relation to her job in social work.

“I wasn’t even sure social work was right for me, but I had some experience in the field and wanted to give it a shot,” she says. “Turns out, social work isn’t only right for me, but aligns with my core values so perfectly I couldn’t have designed the major better myself.”

She describes the discipline as focusing on understanding the dignity and worth of individuals, being competent, servicing others, and stressing the importance and centrality of human relationships.

Each of these aspects that pertain to both of her majors is why she became involved at an organization like the Humble Beginnings Recovery Center, located in Cherry Hill.  Although she has only been employed there for only a little over a year, she’s already undergone a promotion during her time there. After starting out as a client mentor, Garvey progressed to become an Aftercare and Case Management Coordinator. In this position she juggles multiple responsibilities such as confirming documentation with court systems, negotiating with social services and probation officers, working with clients to develop their aftercare plans, and engaging the families of the clients to get involved with support.

“I love my job,” confirms Garvey. “I get to be hands on with clients in rebuilding their lives.”

With the curriculum for her major set in place by Rutgers–Camden and the work she does at her job, she definitely believes the work she’s done at these two institutions go hand-in-hand with one another. In particular, the volunteerism she’s taken part in during her time here due to the Rutgers–Camden Honors College requirements has benefited her. 

“Volunteer work is a form of continuing education! It has taught me so much” Garvey explains. “Once I began school, however, volunteer work was not on the top of my list. My time is very limited. If it wasn’t for the Honors College requirements I probably wouldn’t seek it out myself, so I’m grateful they give me the push I need every semester to get involved.”

With such a packed schedule and as she nears ending her time at Rutgers–Camden she is appreciative for the support she’s experienced during her educational career here on campus.

“I became part of the Honors College my first semester here and was given so much support from Erin Lucas [Assistant Dean for the Honors College],” Garvey says. “She helped guide me through my mid-semester break downs. I also found mentors in both of my majors, Dr. Sara-Beth Plummer for social work and Dr. Gail Caputo in gender studies, and have developed professional relationships with staff members who now feel like colleagues. When I reached out for help Rutgers–Camden was always there.”

Written by Asia Kittles