Oscar Kemp
Oscar Kemp is one of two students nationally to be appointed as the first student representatives to serve on the board of directors of the Council on Social Work Education. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

VCU social work student appointed to national leadership role

Oscar Kemp is the first undergraduate student ever to serve on the board of directors of the Council on Social Work Education.

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Oscar Kemp, a junior in the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, is one of two students nationally to be appointed as the first student representatives to serve on the board of directors of the Council on Social Work Education, the national association representing social work education and program accreditation in the United States.

“To say the least, I was positively overwhelmed [when I heard I’d been appointed],” Kemp said. “I remember yelling out loud because I understood that the opportunity was an inaugural privilege. The next thing I remember was sitting alone and simply saying thank you. I took a deep breath and considered the scale of my appointment.”

Kemp is the first undergraduate representative on the board, while the first graduate student representative is Wendy Hernandez-De La Cruz, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work from the Department of Social Work in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services at California State University Monterey Bay. Kemp and Hernandez-De La Cruz will serve one-year terms.

“I am so glad to welcome Wendy and Oscar, two outstanding students, to CSWE’s leadership and know that their unique perspectives will help our organization better serve students and faculty at accredited programs,” said Saundra Starks, Ed.D., chair of the Council on Social Work Education’s board of directors. “I am also grateful for the support of the board of directors to expand our organization’s leadership to include students as we work towards our strategic goals.”

At VCU, Kemp is president of the Association of Black Social Workers and is a member of the School of Social Work’s B.S.W. Program Committee and is a racial justice fellow for the Radical Alliance for Anti-Racism, Change and Equity, or RAACE, a racial justice task force of faculty, staff, alumni and six fellows.

He also is an intern in the office of VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., and serves on an advisory council for VCU’s senior vice provost for academic affairs. Kemp also previously was a Presidential Student Ambassador for the VCU Office of the President. These leadership roles, he said, “allow me to advocate for students and play a part in transforming the university to be more equitable, inclusive and empowering.”

Last spring, Kemp received the VCU Board of Visitors Scholarship, which recognizes the achievements of an outstanding undergraduate student for their academic achievement, leadership and service to the university and community. He also was recognized by the Department of African American Studies with a Black History in the Making award.

“Oscar is an unusually motivated and passionate undergraduate social work student who clearly is on track to continue to be a trailblazer in the field of social work,” said Beth Angell, Ph.D., dean of the School of Social Work.

A first-generation college student from Danville, Virginia, Kemp was inspired to pursue a degree in social work because he believes it is a pathway to empower others, improve lives and better connect members of society to one another.

“I grew up in a single-parent, low-income household as the oldest sibling of four. This means that I am very observant of my surroundings and the inequities that exist. I moved many different times growing up and no matter where I moved, I noticed a pattern in the people. Those who worked hard never had time to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Those who worked to survive just barely made it past the finish line every month. My family was a part of the latter group,” he said. “Empowerment and motivation to address inequalities and inequities were missing in every community I lived in.”

Following graduation, Kemp aims to pursue a doctorate in social work. His career goals include working in higher education, serving in public office and becoming a social work educator. Ultimately, he said, he wants to create opportunities for youth and adults from underserved populations to feel empowered while pursuing higher education.

“There are so many people who never had the slightest chance to experience what I have. I want to change that,” he said. “My time at VCU has changed my life forever. I wish everyone, including those often harmed by oppressive systems, could experience the wealth of support, love and learning that I have experienced at this university. This support, love and learning empowered me to think more critically about my place in this world and how I may help others experience what I have.”

Kemp said he wants to rewrite the narrative surrounding higher education and how it operates around the student experience.

“I believe at the core of higher education is the ability to empower others to pursue their professional aspirations with consideration to their past learning, experiences and stories. Higher education has the ability to close the tension-filled gap between corners of society and I believe it is the gateway to creating solutions to many of the social problems we face. It is in higher education that people are sometimes first introduced to a diverse collection of people, support and empowerment to make a difference in their personal and professional lives. We must keep this in mind as we strive to ‘Make It Real’ here at VCU. ”