Director of Field Education Graduates Mainstream Square Dance Class

In addition to the passion for and serious work of social work education, GSSW’s staff and faculty are also engaged members of the Denver community in many different ways. Associate Clinical Faculty and Director of Field Education, Ann Petrila, recently graduated from the mainstream level of square dancing1 with the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus ( – a local Denver-area LGBTQA high energy square dance club that is inclusive of straight dancers as well. Here she is shown with friend and fellow Rainbeau, Leo Gross, being silly at her graduation. Congratulations, Ann!

1Modern square dancing is much more than your 8th grade physical education classes’ allemande left and do-si-do. There are numerous levels (mainstream, plus, advanced, and challenge), with hundreds of calls that must be learned. For example, the mainstream level of square dancing alone has 69 different calls with some calls having three and four different variations for a total of 92 different permutations on those calls.

GSSW Associate Dean of Research Looks at Risk and Resilience

GSSW professor and scholar Jeff Jenson’s Aaron Rosen Lecture* was recently published in the journal, Research on Social Work Practice.1 In the article, he summarizes the history of research on interventions to preventing childhood and adolescent problem behavior including the shifts in theoretical orientations across the decades. Beginning in the 1980s, he argues, school-based prevention programs began to integrate social learning theory  and focused more specifically on evidence about risk and protective factors.  In one study completed by Jenson, the Youth Matters curriculum was implemented in half of the sample schools and in those schools there was a significant decrease in bully victimization and relational victimization. In a second study examining the effects of the afterschool program, The Bridge Project – a collaboration between the Denver Public Housing Authority and the University of Denver – Jenson found significant reductions in targeted risks and increases in protection factors.

These and other advances in the practice of prevention are particularly encouraging and the research can help guide practitioners in developing and offering evidence-based interventions to support youth and young adults.

*The Aaron Rosen award is an honor established by the Society for Social Work and Research and the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, honoring Dr. Rosen, with a lecture by a prominent social work researcher whose cumulative work has moved the field of social work forward in terms of integration of research and practice.

1Jenson, J. M. (2010). Advances in prevention childhood and adolescent problem behavior. Research on Social Work Practice, 20, 701-713.

Newest GSSW tenure track faculty member/scholar publishes findings on interventions to reduce cannabis use among adolescents

GSSW faculty member, Kim Bender, along with her colleagues Stephen Tripodi, Christy Sarteschi, and Michael Vaughn conducted a meta-analysis of intervention studies that were published from 1960 – 2008 which examined cannabis use treatment for adolescents (ages 12-19).1 Fifteen research studies met the criteria for inclusion in the analysis. Their results found that not only do interventions to reduce cannabis use among adolescents have a medium effect, but that the effect size of individual treatment and family treatment approaches were similarly effective. Among family-centered approaches, three approaches emerged as having larger effect sizes: Integrated Family and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Multidimensional Family Therapy, and Teaching Family. For individual approaches, Motivational Interviewing, Behavioral Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy emerged as the approaches that were most successful. The findings of this study not only contribute to the literature on evidence-based practice, but also addresses a treatment area where little intervention research has been conducted.

1Bender, K., Tripodi, S. J., Sarteschi, C., & Vaughn, M. G. (2011). A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce adolescent cannabis use. Research on Social Work Practice, 21, 153-164.

GSSW scholars explore cutting behavior among sexual minority youth

GSSW faculty scholars N. Eugene Walls and Julie Laser collaborated with GSSW doctoral student Sarah J. Nickels and GSSW alum Hope Wisneski to examine the factors that are associated with increased likelihood of engaging in cutting behavior among lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender youth and young adults.1 Across various statistical models, they found that female- and trans-identified LGBQT youth and young adults were at significantly greater risk of cutting than their male-identified counterparts.  Other factors associated with greater likelihood include victimization, homelessness, depression, suicide attempts, smoking tobacco, and having friends in their close friendship network who attempted suicide. The risk for the behavior appears to decrease with increased age and with having an adult teacher, social worker, or other school personnel with whom the youth can talk about sexual orientation and gender identity.

One interesting finding is that youth who were more out about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity were at increased risk of engaging in the behavior.  Since being out is typically associated with greater mental health and resilience, this finding may seem counter-intuitive. However, the researchers point out, that the impact of coming out is frequently contextual – so if youth come out in an environment that invalidates or stigmatizes their identities it would not be surprising to find such a result. More research on the topic of cutting and other non-suicidal self-injurious behavior among LGBQT youth is clearly warranted.

1Walls, N. E., Laser, J., Nickels, S., & Wisneski, H. (2010). Correlates of cutting behavior among sexual minority youth and young adults. Social Work Research, 34, 213-226.

Examination of suicide prevention efforts by GSSW scholar

In a pair of articles published recently, GSSW associate professor, Stacey Freedenthal, explores issues of suicidality in high school contexts. Given the prevalence of suicidal thoughts and attempts among adolescents, the important of her work cannot be overstated. The first article1 – co-authored with GSSW doctoral student Lindsey Breslin – looked at teachers’ experiences with student suicidality. The majority of the teachers reported that, at some time during their teaching career, a student had disclosed either their own suicidality or that of a peer. At the same time almost one half of the teachers had never received any suicide prevention training. Those who had received training were more likely to report that students had disclosed suicidality to them and were more likely to have directly inquired about a students’ suicidality than those who had never received training on suicide prevention. Given the reality that teachers are likely the most consistently present professional in most adolescents’ lives, much needs to be done to adequately prepare them to recognize and respond to signs of suicide risk.

The second study2 found little evidence of change in students’ help-seeking behaviors after the introduction of a high-school based suicide prevention program as reported by the students themselves or by the staff at the school. The one area of improvement found was students’ self-report of utilizing a suicide prevention helpline. The study – one of only a handful of community-based evaluation studies on suicide prevention efforts that looks specifically at behavioral changes – provides a foundation on which future studies can build.

1Freedenthal, S., & Breslin, L. (2010). High school teachers’ experiences with suicidal students: A descriptive study. Journal of Loss & Trauma, 15, 83-92

2Freedenthal, S. (2010). Adolescent help-seeking and the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program: An evaluation. Suicide and Life-threatening Behavior, 40, 628 – 639.

GSSW hosts 2nd biennial Pedagogy of Privilege conference

On August 15th & 16th, 2011, the Graduate School of Social Work will host the 2nd biennial Pedagogy of Privilege conference at Craig Hall on the University of Denver campus. Keynote speakers include Julia Serano (University of California, Berkeley) who will be delivering a talk, “Privilege, Double Standards, and Invalidations” during which she will use her experiences as a transgender woman to deconstruct resistance to acknowledging and challenging cisgender privilege. Victor Lewis (Center for Diversity Leadership) is a sought after speaker and workshop leader, most well-known for his role in the explosive documentary “Color of Fear.”  Finally, Kevin Kumashiro (University of Illinois, Chicago and The Center for Anti-Oppressive Educaiton) will be presenting “Three Lenses for Intersectional Pedagogy” where he will problematize the partial nature of privilege and its role in anti-oppressive educational work.

If you’d like more information on the conference, please visit the conference webpage at If you would like to receive future emails about the conference, including notice when registration opens and the Call for Papers, Presentations, and Workshops, send your request to be added to the conference email list to