Kashmir Kustanowitz, AM '13
The passion of Kashmir Rose Wood Kustanowitz is for addressing issues of social justice both on an individual level and on a societal/systems level. So while she was on the clinical track of study at the School of Social Service Administration, she also took classes that addressed the macro-level picture for social change.
At her first-year fieldwork placement at the Legal Assistance Foundation, she supported clients through the legal process and helped with such needs as housing and Social Security benefits. She is now a clinician at the Sheriff's Women's Justice Program in Cook County Jail, where she is also carrying out her yearlong project for the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
"My goal is to help people overcome the limitations of the correctional system. I want to help create a safe and therapeutic environment so individuals can make choices that will better align with their personal values and goals," Kustanowitz says.
Kustanowitz's Schweitzer Fellowship project was centered on a forum for individuals with histories of trauma and substance abuse to find support, express themselves, build inner strength through education and mindfulness, and prevent future self-harm.
"I've learned so much about the difficulties involved in having very little control over one's body in confinement. Conducting the mindfulness and body awareness exercises in the 'Body Empowerment' group has been incredibly rewarding for me. Working one-on-one with clients is what I find to be very gratifying, and at the same time I'm always developing strategies to bring about change on a broader level. The collaboration that exists at SSA between policy and clinical work is very important to me," Kustanowitz says.
Her goal after graduation was to work both within and out of the correctional system to promote restorative justice rather than a punitive framework. She admits that it is daunting to look at the ever growing prison population and how it disproportionately represents vulnerable people. Yet she says she is inspired by her clients who have overcome great obstacles and by coworkers from different disciplines who are contributing to a better society. Kustanowitz considers her growth as a professional and as an individual to be organic, and she believes that SSA is preparing her well to succeed in a change-oriented profession.
"What makes taking classes at SSA such an interesting and enriching experience is that professors provide approaches for intervention from their own experiences on an individual level, and also contextualize these approaches within the broader societal issues we are confronting. I'm very grateful to be able to learn about the leaves, the tree, and the entire forest all in one classroom. I'm also deeply appreciative for the ways in which the faculty and staff at SSA encourage us as students to pursue projects like the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. During all stages of the process—from learning about the fellowship through Michael Jogerst to help with completing my application from Scott Allard, as well as continuing my mentorship with Stanley McCracken—I feel that SSA takes great interest in supporting me along the way,” Kustanowitz says.