An Integrated Concept
Professor Connects Spirituality and Native American Traditions to Social Work
Wherever Robert Prue goes, he creates connections. At home, he starts construction projects. At the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), he integrates social work, Native American principles and spirituality.
After earning his Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the Lawrence, Kan.-based University of Kansas in July, Prue joined the UMKC School of Social Work as a visiting assistant professor. He is teaching two classes during the fall of 2008 – Human Behavior: Individuals in the Social Environment and Social Work Research Methods.
In addition to human behavior and research methods, though, Prue said he hopes to teach students about the integration of spiritual principles into social work. “It grew out of charity,” Prue said of social work. “Once it professionalized, it moved away from its religious roots. In the last 20 years, the spirituality element is returning – less in a sense of religion and more in a sense of honoring the clients, whatever their spiritual practice or lack thereof may be.”
As an active member of The Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota, Prue also plans to introduce content related to diversity and Native Americans. Traditional Native American practices support mental and physical health, and social work practitioners should learn to utilize Native American resources, Dr. Prue said.
Prue’s life experience as part of several distinctly different cultures and his ability to forge a connection among these cultures makes him an asset to the UMKC School of Social Work, said Dr. Michael Smith, professor and program director.
“He brings first-person knowledge of Native American cultures to the program, along with insights into the importance of – and the ability to develop – inter-cultural competencies that are critical to social workers and ever more important for non-social workers, as well,” Smith said.
Prue’s efforts to bridge a gap between social work and the Native American community have received state-wide and national recognition, as well.
In 2000, the Kansas Attorney General presented Prue with the Commitment to Crime Victims' Service Award for Outstanding Individual. The award recognized his work as project director for the KU School of Social Welfare’s Healthy Relationships Project. The project educated students, staff and faculty at Lawrence, Kan.-based Haskell Indian Nations University about domestic violence and sexual safety.
On a national level, the Alexandria, Va.-based Council on Social Work Education has recognized Prue as a Minority Fellow in the United States Department of Health and Human Services since 2005. In November, Prue will speak about his dissertation (“King Alcohol to Chief Peyote: Grounded Theory Investigation of the Supporting Factors of the Native American Church”) at the Council’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. The dissertation discusses the peyote cactus, which the Native American Church traditionally incorporates into religious ceremonies.
“The Native American church has been controversial because they use peyote in rituals,” Prue said. “It is listed as a hallucinogen, but nobody has ever hurt themselves. It’s misunderstood, and there are a lot of assumptions. This will inform practitioners.”
Dr. K. Jean Peterson, associate professor and Master of Social Work program director in the KU Social Welfare program, chaired Prue’s dissertation committee and said she sees value in his research.
“His dissertation research has the potential of adding to our knowledge of how best to work with Native Americans who are struggling with substance abuse issues, incorporating cultural understanding into mainstream thinking and providing a framework for culturally-competent practice with this population,” said Peterson. “Working with Bob was always a pleasure, particularly since I learned so much as I was working with him!”
Emily Bono, who completed her Master of Social Work (MSW) field practicum with the Healthy Relationships Project in 2000, said she remembers Prue as a supportive and encouraging instructor.
“My year under his guidance turned out to be the best learning experience I had as an MSW student, and has profoundly shaped my identity as a social worker,” said Bono, who works as a school social worker and team leader in Vienna, Austria.