Online MSW Program Helps Student Build on Career of Protecting Native American Rights
Randy LeBar '23 has dedicated his career to protecting the rights of Native Americans, and he plans to use his online MSW from Widener to continue building on his years of experience.
- College of Health & Human Services
Randy LeBar has dedicated his entire social work career to helping Native American populations in Michigan. After 14 years working in Native American services, Randy has heard the experiences of countless families and has gained a deep knowledge and respect for Native American cultures.
“As a social worker, I go to work with the idea of self-determination. Native people have always had that idea of self-determination which is so deeply rooted in tradition,” said Randy.
Now, Randy is leveraging the research and experiences he gained in Widener’s online master of social work (MSW) program to further advocate for the fair and equitable treatment of the Native population.
Randy’s interest in Native Americans began in a high school history class. Having been taught the diluted version of Native American history, he asked his teacher for more information which set him on his path.
That curiosity led Randy to at an agency focused solely on helping Native populations for 14 years until their doors shut due to the pandemic. Under the guidance of his professional mentors there, his passion only continued to grow.
“Working in a mental health system, a lot of the time you feel like you’re stuck in certain areas. My former job gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. We needed to know every single person who walked in the door and develop strategies for what was going on with them.”
After his agency closed, Randy began working with homeless veterans and looking to grow his skills and career to eventually continue helping Native populations.
When looking for a MSW program, Randy wanted one with a trauma focused curriculum. Learning about the Widener MSW program’s use of a trauma-informed, clinical model meant Randy could hone his skills to advocate for and engage with members of the Native population.
In addition, Randy, a Michigan resident, was drawn to Widener for its proximity to the site of the first federally funded residential school located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
“I wanted to address the trauma associated with residential schools in my MSW program, and I thought Widener University would be a great place to begin due to the history,” Randy said. “It has been a wonderful experience so far because of the support I received.”
He credits Jenifer Norton, adjunct professor in the Center for Social Work Education, for helping him to tie his interest in Native Americans into his coursework.
“Jenifer has helped me tremendously. I participated in the Graduate Research Symposium and she was my guide through the whole process and helped me do what was necessary to create a research paper that would be presentable for that event,” said Randy.
When it comes to protecting the future of Native populations, Randy and Native American advocates across the country are watching as federal legislation is in jeopardy.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing a case that entails the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a landmark federal law enacted in 1978. The law set federal requirements for state child custody cases involving a Native child in an effort to keep the child within their tribal and cultural community before being removed and placed in a non-Native home.
In November 2022, the Supreme Court heard the case, but a decision has not yet been released.
“There is such a deep cultural difference between Natives and non-Natives that not a lot of people understand,” said Randy. “When I read about it after the case was heard, they said it was a deeply divided court.”
Looking ahead, Randy is committed to continuing to educate others in the social work field on the complexities of working with Native populations, particularly in understanding generational trauma due to the treatment of Native people in residential schools.