Student Spotlight with Katharine Cristaudo

Katharine Cristaudo

Mark Stehle

“KAT” FOR SHORT: Katharine Cristaudo, a second-year MSW student in the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) is the president of Social Work Advocates for Immigrant Rights (SWAIR), a student-run organization at SP2 that offers support to Philadelphia’s immigrant community, and aspires to increase knowledge and understanding of the role of social workers in addressing immigration issues. Ali Flukes, a second-year MSW student, serves as SWAIR’s co-leader and treasurer.

LOOK WITHOUT PREJUDICE: From Monroeville in Salem County, N.J., Cristaudo studied English and women’s studies as an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut and was leaning toward a career in international human rights before interning at Amnesty International in Washington, D.C. “That’s kind of where I started learning about issues of immigration and human trafficking, and other human rights violations,” she says. “The immigration discourse in the news is usually about undocumented individuals taking away jobs. It’s always a negative connotation. I don’t think we look enough at the terrible things that are happening to them.”

EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE: Cristaudo says her stint as the volunteer coordinator at the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault “opened up my eyes to social work.” She realized she wanted to work with individuals on a clinical level and chose to apply to SP2.

LIKE-MINDED: SWAIR’s main goal is to educate the Penn student body about issues germane to immigrants and also the plight of refugees in Philadelphia. The group often partners with Students for International Social Work and the Hispanic/Latino Alliance for Change and Equity (HACE); both are SP2 student organizations that have a similar focus and collaborate with SWAIR to bring in lecturers and host panel discussions.

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: “In the past, we’ve volunteered with the New Sanctuary Movement on the ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign, where we go into various congregations and speak with undocumented individuals about what their rights are when it comes to work and just in general, letting them know that they do have rights because a lot of times people are afraid to go to the police if they  get injured on the job,” Cristaudo says.

JOB TRAINING: This year, SWAIR has been working with the Training & Upgrading Fund of the local District 1199C to assist refugees with writing a resume. “It’s something that seems so simple, but it’s so helpful and it makes such a difference,” Cristaudo says.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: After graduating, Cristaudo says she would like to do therapy work with individuals who have experienced trauma—working in a direct practice setting—but also wants to complement that work by serving the community. “I think finding ways to bring effective, evidence-based direct practice work into the community so that more people have access to it is something that is definitely an avenue for more work to be done,” she says.

Originally published on March 13, 2014