K A R E N H E Y C O X
I wanted to be a social worker from the age of twelve, even though I did not then know what it was called. I just knew I had concerns about social justice particularly around race issues … concerns around gender and class came later in my twenties as my life experiences expanded and at an age when I could reflect more on my working class background and also share common stories with women friends.
After high school I studied social work at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Upon graduation I worked for eight years in a large teaching hospital in neurology and neurosurgery as well as a number of other areas. Realising the restrictions of this work setting I was glad to have the opportunity to move on to work in community health with a range of people experiencing physical disabilities. My passion for working with older people and concern for advocating for their rights led me to a position lecturing at the University of New South Wales for almost twenty five years … teaching an elective on working with older people, as well as teaching in practice areas in both classroom courses and in field courses.
I have been retired from social work for almost five years. Since retirement I have developed an online communication course and have done some teaching … however I find myself at a time in life where I can use my experience to give my time and care to others in a more informal way.
I chose Glasses because …
… they have increasingly become an identifier for who I am and how I practice in the world. Each time I have purchased a new pair I am mindful of how they will represent me and my values and how they will be viewed by others. I am known for my glasses and for my way of dressing. I get positive comments and find people want to engage and use my glasses as a starting point. So while it was initially a subconscious act, I realise I now use my glasses and my overall presentation as a statement and a means to engage and be open to discussion with others.
I found that when I worked with older people they liked to talk about what I was wearing, it brought some ‘life’ into their often isolated world. Often we may think we should dress conservatively when working with older people but I found the opposite was true (of course there are limits but these apply not only to older people).
This was also true in my work with students who would see the way I presented myself, the way I decorated my office and my open door (when many academics kept theirs closed) and would comment on how it felt like being in their room at home. So there was already an established degree of comfort. In light of this situation I soon became the informal social work student advisor, and then in a more formal role counselling and advising students. I think this sense of individual expression is to a large degree lost in modern Western societies … and we are the poorer for it. I remember looking around a classroom and seeing the black, white and grey uniforms … also the often conservative black framed or tortoise shell glasses … so my glasses are also a plea to celebrate diversity in the world.