Valerie (Roman ’93) Stokes

Justice Seeker


Dr. Val Stokes teaches social work at Northwestern and operates New Leaf Therapy. The recipient of the college’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2012, she previously directed a transitional housing agency and served as a therapist at Northwestern. Her passion for diversity and empowering women is represented by this art piece created by a microfinance worker in a Latin American country.

How does your personal faith commitment inform your career in social work?
My passion for justice stems from the outpouring of my faith commitments. Several Scripture verses guide my work. Isaiah 1:17 commands believers to seek justice, learn to do good, defend the vulnerable and fight oppression, which led me to social work as a profession. The message of Isaiah 61:4 to rebuild, restore and renew invigorates my work as a clinical social worker and therapist. It has been a blessing to be part of God’s redeeming work in the world.

You played an important role in helping to develop Northwestern’s Vision for Diversity. What impact has it had on the NWC community?
It guides us in living out God’s vision more fully so that we may respect and accept unique individual characteristics and the diversity of the human family. The Vision for Diversity gives us language to celebrate diversity, lament our human brokenness, learn ways to reconcile with one another, engage in the fight against inequity, and pursue human flourishing. This vision gives faculty and staff direction in programs of study and service.

Social work is a field that relies on human connection and interpersonal communication. How did you adapt your social work pedagogy to a distance learning format in response to COVID-19 precautionary measures?
At first, I was uncertain how to manage the loss of face-to-face human contact in the classroom. I decided right away to commit to connect every Monday morning with my students via group text. I wanted to let them know they were on my mind and provide guidance for the week. I loved when my students texted me throughout the week to let me know how they were doing at home. Learning online techniques fast led to asynchronous discussion text forums and synchronous weekly Zoom calls. So while we grieved not being in close physical proximity, we learned how to care and listen to each other well through new measures. I honestly think I felt just as connected with them during the COVID-19 pandemic because we desperately needed one another.

You have served as both a professor and a mental health counselor. How have your roles overlapped? What are the biggest differences?
I love being both an educator and a practicing therapist. These roles inform each other. I am able to bring current practice examples to the classroom, and I am able to stay abreast of new research and theoretical orientations for my private practice. One of the ways the roles overlap is in mission. My mission, whether in the classroom or in my private practice office, is to provide a safe, authentic space to promote healing, restoration and relational connection for growth.

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