A Social Work Student Strives to Amplify Silenced Voices

Elizabeth Pontes’ childhood calling sparked her passion for social justice

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Elizabeth Pontes posing for a photo infront an NYU Accra sign

 

Social Work major Elizabeth “Beth” Pontes first learned about the role of socioeconomic status in education when she was a student in a small private school outside of Boston. “I noticed certain cycles in the world,” she says. For example, she observed how living in a low-income neighborhood could mean going to a school with less funding, fewer opportunities and resources, higher drop-out rates, and more violent crime. “I felt pulled to this idea of education inequity at my core,” Beth says. “It’s one of the factors that sparked my interest in social justice. I always wanted to help amplify the voices of those who felt silenced.” And it is this commitment to social justice that inspired Beth to study at the NYU Silver School of Social Work.

Creating an Equitable Community

During her first year at NYU, Beth joined student government. “Because Silver is one of NYU’s smaller schools I wanted to make sure its students’ voices were heard. So I became an alternate senator in the Silver School Senate.” A year later, when she was a sophomore, she became a full senator. “When I started to attend University Senate meetings, I was astounded by the impact we could have and what was actually being done to create meaningful change on campus.”

In addition to student government, Beth also joined the Undergraduate Program Committee. Here, she saw another way to make the Silver community as equitable as possible. Together, she and her classmates discuss the pros and cons of each potential new program. They weigh how each would affect social work students, the other schools, and NYU as a whole.

Beth’s academic path at Silver has also been meaningful. She augmented classes in human behavior, social welfare, social work research, diversity, and interpersonal communications with studying abroad at NYU Accra. There, she took courses in community psychology and Ghanaian history. At the same time, she also interned at Street Girls Aid (S.Aid). S.Aid is a nongovernmental organization that offers vocational training, shelter, and childcare for young girls and women living on the streets of Accra.

Fighting for Educational Justice

After she graduates, Beth hopes to work in the juvenile justice system. “I’m interested in the way trauma affects inner-city youth. Specifically how the combination of repressed trauma, community violence, and school policing contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline. My dream job is at an agency working at the crossroads of education policy, juvenile justice, and mental health.”

To prospective Silver students, she offers some advice. “Take advantage of Silver’s relatively small size. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of NYU as a first-year student. But Silver’s quaint community creates a comforting home for their students. Get involved in the community as much as you can.”