Aerial photograph of the Immaculate Conception Chapel

Get to know Shawn Cassiman

Shawn CassimanTypically, there is not much of a disconnect between who someone is growing up and who they become as an adult. Children are born and raised to become products of that upbringing. Sometimes, this is fortunate; sometimes less so. Shawn Cassiman is an exception to that trend.

Since 2007, Shawn has been an assistant professor of social work in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology and entered a combined Master's, PhD program focusing on social work and social welfare at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She has five children and enjoys very much being a grandmother, although moving to Dayton and away from her family in Wisconsin has been difficult. Shawn Cassiman is at a time in her life where she is comfortable. However, it wasn’t always so.

"I was actually a high school dropout," she began. Earning her GED only after she became pregnant with her eldest daughter, Shawn went back to college at the nontraditional age of 35 with a new motivation and appreciation for academia.

"I went back to college because the economy was bad and I thought, 'You know, if I can get an education, then I can take care of these kids, because I'm on my own,'" she said. "And then I just fell in love with scholarship."

Shawn dabbled in a variety of careers before stumbling across her newfound love, including sheep farming, carpentry, waitressing and, her first experience in a university, janitorial work. After deciding against permanent positions in any of these fields, Shawn became involved with the McNair Scholars Program, which supports traditionally underrepresented graduate students. As a first generation non-traditional student, she was fully supported, socially, through the program, which helped with applications and the graduate school process.

Her journey to UD was as carefully considered as all of her decisions regarding education. "When I was applying for jobs I was looking for a place that actually supported social justice work," she said. "This department is really great because it's an interdisciplinary department, so you get all of this really nice collaboration between anthropologists, criminologists, sociologists and social workers."

One common misconception of social work that Shawn sometimes has to “unteach” in her courses is that social work is only child-snatching. “Social workers work in policy, they work as counselors and therapists and community organizers,” she pointed out. “The really wonderful thing, I think, about social work is that it is so broad. Anybody can find their place in the field.”

Shawn's place is in policy. Her place is in addressing oppression, environmental degradation and the unbalanced ways in which they effect the impoverished "other."

"Over 60 percent of us, at some point in our lives between the ages of 18 and retirement, will experience poverty," she said. "[So] how can we think of people who experience poverty as the 'other?' Making connections across differences, that’s a struggle, and I think that’s something social work really helps us with."

Her job is teaching an emerging generation that changes can be made in social policy both from the top down and the ground up, with courses such as Justice, Social Welfare Policy, International Social Work and Anti-Oppressive Social Work.

Shawn and a colleague from Wright State University organized a group in solidarity with people living in poverty called Putting People First. "It’s people that are poor and their allies discussing issues," she beamed. "It’s educational, but also identifies an issue."

In her free time, when she’s not founding organizations or writing for change in scholarly and local publications, Shawn enjoys gardening, travel, and spending time with her children, grandchildren and Aussie/Bernese mountain dog, Sparky.

"I love to garden because I can see immediate results," she said. "It meets that need we all have to actually see something tangible for our work."

For someone working in social policy and changes on a macro level, immediate results are rarely realized. For Shawn, it's hard to know if she may be working for something for which she'll never see the results, but it’s enough to know she is instituting change and compassion for society’s "wasted" other, for her students, her children and her children’s children."

"You have to work on change even if you never expect to see the results," she said. "I definitely hope to see change, and many changes, in my lifetime. But, if I don’t, I’m going to continue to work for those changes anyway."