Friday, December 4, 2020

Cardinal Watch: Sharp pours passion into social work

Jenna Sharp, a senior social work major and gender and women’s studies minor, dreams of becoming a licensed social worker and escaping the cold of the east coast to somewhere warm like Arizona. In the meantime, she is immersing herself in her studies and staying grounded by setting new goals.

Sharp grew up in Chester, a small suburban town about four hours away from Plattsburgh.

“I went far away to school out of necessity because my homelife wasn’t fantastic with my family, so I needed enough distance between myself and them to be my own person,” Sharp said. “For me, going away to school, I knew [it] was my only ticket out of my home life and to change the cycle for myself with my family with poverty and stuff like that.”

Sharp is the president of the Triota gender and women’s studies honor society and is a member of Phi Alpha, the social work honor society. She was the secretary of SUNY Plattsburgh Cares, an organization that promotes inclusion and gives students volunteer opportunities to help under-represented groups, from 2017 to 2018.

“I had to step back because I was involved with other things on campus that needed my attention,” Sharp said.

One of these things was advocating for victims when former Chief Diversity Officer J.W. Wiley was accused of sexual harassment in February 2018. As he was being investigated,  multiple copies of an anonymous letter were hung in bathrooms addressed to him and read “We have lived with our shame and guilt and blamed ourselves. We thought we were responsible for your unwanted touches and sexual comments.” Sharp, along with other students, was involved in an underground coalition that helped post the letter around the school.

This semester, she interned at Behavioral Health Services North in its children’s care management program.

“I had a full caseload of kiddos that I would manage their plans of care, help them achieve their goals, improve on their behavioral health, get them connected with mental health services,” Sharp said.

She also met with the children’s care teams at their schools and advocated for them during legal proceedings.

“I loved that. That was probably my favorite thing ever, and I’m sad I can’t do it anymore,” Sharp said.

Her biggest inspiration is her 15-year-old brother, who came out as gay when he was 11 years old. He had a suicidal episode, but now his mental health has greatly improved, and he stood up to a bully who had been physically and verbally harassing him. He is now the captain and first male on his high school cheerleading squad.

“It’s amazing to me how sure of who he is at such a young age,” Sharp said. “Like at 15, I didn’t know what I wanted for breakfast, let alone who the hell I am. That just inspires me, someone’s authenticity and consistency in making something right for themselves, but also making a difference for other people.”

Like her brother, Sharp has also struggled with anxiety and depression.

“When your mind is telling you that you’re not gonna make it anywhere, or that you’re not going to succeed, or you don’t deserve the success, or the happiness that you’re experiencing at the time, and to be able to say, ‘Hey that’s not the truth,’ and combat that is the hardest thing,” Sharp said. “Because at the end of the day, you live with yourself, so if your own self isn’t encouraging you, how are you supposed to rise above?”

Sharp will attend NYU Silver School of Social Work in the fall to earn her master’s in social work. She has chosen to focus her studies on forensic social work and gender-based minority advocacy. She has been assigned to intern as a high school school counselor, her dream job as a kid.

“When I found out my placement, I burst into tears,” Sharp said. “I feel like [after] all that crap and pain I went through as a kid, that little girl’s dreams are coming true. It’s sick.”

 

Email Alana Penny at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

 

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