by Jesús Ortega
I feel like my work has come full circle with my new position as Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) at Dell Medical School at UT Austin. As Director, I have the privilege of educating, advocating, and supporting students, faculty, staff, and trainees in our efforts to build a diverse and inclusive school. With over a year in this position, I have had the opportunity to create new guidelines for recruiting and hiring diverse staff and faculty and to administer a climate survey that serves as the baseline for creating a culture of inclusivity and engagement. I have also worked as adjunct faculty in the Health Inter-Professional Education Program, which provides academic training to students from the schools of pharmacy, social work, nursing, and medicine. My other roles include coordinating community-wide critical conversations on a range of topics associated with equity in health, provider bias and inclusivity training to over 1,400 UT Austin members and supporting student and employee resource groups. I have also been collaborating to create the first health social work department within the medical school.
Before taking my current position, and right after graduating from UTSA, I worked as Deputy Director of the Alamo Area Resource Center (AARC), an HIV-AIDS service organization in San Antonio, for five years. At AARC, I participated in the establishment of a Community Health Clinic focused on LGBTQ health and providing mental health services to people living with HIV, and PrEP access to the San Antonio community. I was also involved in creating a coalition of service providers to address the high incidence of new HIV cases among young Latino men in San Antonio.
After graduation and two years of practice, the School of Social Work at UTSA offered me my first opportunity to teach as an adjunct faculty member. That experience continues to inform my current teaching and academic work as Assistant professor of practice at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at UT Austin. As an instructor at UTSA, I taught my students the value of cultural competency in the field of social work, and I challenged them often to look inside themselves and step outside of their comfort zones.
It’s my experiences as a graduate student, however, that really shaped my future and career. While pursuing my Master of Social Work degree at UTSA, I focused on issues affecting underrepresented and marginalized communities. I interned with Communities in Schools and worked with refugee children and youth. I also had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do my advanced field placement in Brazil at the PAPAI Institute and The Federal University of Pernambuco School of Social Work. My experiences there involved deconstructing my own ethos of race, class, gender, age and culture. I worked with a diverse group of young men who taught me how culture can serve as a transformative vehicle for addressing social inequities and gender violence. Doing my practicum in Brazil expanded my horizons and taught me valuable lessons about cultural competency, diversity, equity, and inclusion. As I continue to reflect on these experiences and the impact of my work, I am considering applying to Ph.D. programs next year.