The Tyler Loop Interview: Alex White of UT Tyler Social Work Club

Listen to the audio or read the full transcript, below.

Jane: My guest today is Alex White. Alex is 29 and has lived in Tyler for about a year. They are a senior student enrolled in the University of Texas at Tyler’s social work program with plans to complete in the spring of 2024 with UT Tyler’s first social work program’s graduating class. Alex is the president-elect of the university’s social work club, designed to help engage social work students with their communities.

Alex has a one-year-old Siberian Husky named Aphrodite, who is their emotional support animal and their best friend. Alex, welcome.

📷 All photos courtesy of Alex White

Alex: Hi, thank you for having me.

Jane: We want to talk about all things social work, but I want to always begin with grounding this in Tyler and East Texas. So, tell us about your relationship to our region and to the school.

Alex: I’ve lived in East Texas, like you said, for a year. But before this, I have lived in Tyler for five to six years. I’ve spent a lot of time driving the back roads and everything. As a class project, we went downtown, and we did the Point in Time homeless count. And so, that let me see a different side of Tyler I’ve never seen. As the years have gone by, I’ve become more and more aware of what’s going on in Tyler and the surrounding area.

Jane: Tell us what drew you to social work and the program at UT Tyler specifically.

Alex: When I first started college, I was a history major. I made a B in history, so I decided that major wasn’t for me.

I actually started back at Kilgore College and professor Tina Rushing talked to me about the social work major. She’s the one who convinced me that it’s what I should be doing, and I learned more about it. I learned that this career lines up really well for what I believe in.

Because I was core complete at Kilgore College, I had to find a university, and I wanted one that was close. I wanted one that was very well spoken about, and I know that the UT system is highly recommended. So, I chose UT Tyler and luckily, I enrolled, and there was a social work program. I had no idea they didn’t have one to begin with, and so now I get to be a part of that whole process.

Jane: Yes, good timing.

Alex: Yes.

Jane: As you’ve been in class now for two semesters, share with us things you’ve seen in your community. Any engagement in this region that has been especially meaningful or impactful for you?

Alex: Like I mentioned, the Point in Time was actually a class assignment we had to go do, and it was the first time I’d ever done something like that because of my social anxiety and things like that wouldn’t let me.

I got to go out and experience helping people face to face, where we’re gathering their information to make sure Tyler knows how many people there are who need help, so that they can provide adequate help.

That was a really eye-opening experience, just to see the different kinds of people experiencing homelessness. We met two who were only 19, and they were homeless. They had been homeless for years.

We had a guest speaker named Holly who came into our class and spoke with us. She was a forensic social worker, and this was something I didn’t know existed. I had a ton of questions for her. She explained that forensic social workers are the ones who work in the mental hospitals and deal with clients who are trying to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. And so, that social worker helps determine if that person is insane or if they are fit to stand trial. It’s something that really intrigues, me because I love true crime. It’s something that’s always fascinated me since I was little.

Being able to work in that field is something that really interests me.

Jane: Yeah, I never would’ve imagined that’s the role of a social worker.

Alex: Yeah, I was told when I first started that if you get your master’s in social work, you can rule the world, because it’s a very lateral field of work. There are so many different things you can do, and it’s one of the only degrees that allows that.

Jane: Right. When you’re studying humans, the limits are that you are studying humans.

Alex: Exactly.

One of the events we did with the social work club was we partnered with the Alzheimer’s Alliance here in Tyler. We planted pinwheels with names on them for family members who suffered from Alzheimer’s. I was the first pinwheel that got planted for my great-grandfather who died because of his Alzheimer’s. It was really meaningful for me to work with this organization and to be able to do that. In fact, the photos of us and that event were in the news, and I thought that was really awesome — a great way to get the word out about us.

Jane: Now that you’ve had this foray into the community in East Texas and Tyler organizations trying to make a difference, are there any that are particular standouts where you say, “Gosh, that one has my name on it. That’s where I want to see change?”

Alex: I know the hospice center here in Tyler — they worked through COVID. They have clients who come and actually stay at the center, because they aren’t able to stay in their home. They need all the help they can get.

We actually had a guest speaker from hospice come and speak to our class. When I think of hospice, all I think about are people dying, and that’s not all it is all the time. And so, her coming to talk to us about it was a great experience.

Jane: Now that you’ve seen some organizations working for change in East Texas, what needs do you see that really stand out as big gaps you’d like to see closed?

Alex: The things in place for mental health here in Tyler are not the greatest, even in East Texas. There are tons of people, especially after COVID, who are suffering with severe depression and are isolating themselves in their homes. Even though COVID is over, they don’t know how to be around people anymore. I think we need more services and more help for those people.

I also think the LGBTQ community, they’re not represented in Tyler very well. I know we have PFLAG, which is amazing, but we could always use more.

Jane: Thank you. What is your hope as social work develops and expands in this region?

Alex: I hope that as social work develops and expands, we can create the change that we need to see; that we can close the gap with mental health resources; represent the LGBTQ community; help with the homeless population; and provide more resources, especially ones that aren’t faith-based.

For a lot of people, that causes a lot of problems. Some faith-based organizations and nonprofits will turn people away for certain things. I think you should do it just because you want to and not because your faith told you. I think if it’s in your heart to help people, then you do it, and you help people regardless of who they are and where they came from. That’s something I’d really like to see in the East Texas area.

Jane: Do we have any examples of that kind of work happening right now?

Alex: I volunteer at an organization called One Love in Longview. It is one of the only non-faith-based organizations and nonprofits that help with the homeless population in the Longview-Kilgore area. They actually just opened a thrift store called Twice Loved, which is right next to the organization.

All of the proceeds from that go to the nonprofit to help. They aren’t funded by the government, they are funded by the people, by the donations, by the thrift store. Their goal is to help everyone regardless of race, sexuality, gender, anything. It’s a really great organization, and I’m hoping that I get to do my internship there come spring semester.

Jane: Fantastic. Alex, is there anything that hasn’t come up yet that you want to make sure gets on the air today; anything important to you?

Alex: I just want to remind everyone who’s listening that, although the name is the Social Work Club, you don’t have to be a social work major to be a part of the club. Our tagline is “community and collaboration.” We want people from all majors to be able to join if they believe in helping and collaborating with their community.

Jane: Thank you. Alex White, it’s been a joy to have you. Thank you for sharing with the Tyler Loop.

Alex: Thank you. It’s been a joy to be here.

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