November 18, 2015

Professor’s curriculum project empowers women on the fringes

Associate Professor of Social Work Catherine Marrs Fuchsel has found her life’s calling addressing the needs of some of society’s most vulnerable women: Latinas living in the U.S. with no immigration status, unfamiliar with the language and culture, and being physically and verbally abused by an intimate partner.

Marrs Fuchsel has spent the past five years on her research project, the “Si, Yo Puedo” curriculum, acquiring data, refining the curriculum and sharing it in journal articles and numerous presentations across the country.

Her project uses community-based participatory research to examine and address the needs of vulnerable women. Aided by the Twin Cities-based Latino community and cultural resource organization, Centro, groups of Latinas use her 10-week curriculum as an educational tool.

Surveys before and after the course bear witness to the program's effectiveness: improved self-esteem, expanded critical thinking skills and greater awareness of what healthy relationships look like. Latinas taking the program also report having a better understanding of the community resources available to them and how to access those resources.

A presentation at a conference of Latino social workers in Chicago resulted in the West Chicago Police Department joining Centro as a community partner. This partnership has helped her close in on nearly 100 Latinas — a key milestone in the research world — as she discusses next steps with a possible publisher of her program manual.

“I’ve gotten good feedback,” says Marrs Fuchsel. “My goal is to provide a program to mental health professionals, licensed social workers and other social service providers to address the needs of Latino communities here in Minnesota and across the country.”

The Pew Research Center’s 2011 Statistical Portrait of the Hispanic Population reports more than 250,000 Latinos in Minnesota with as many as 95,000 — 22 percent — lacking immigration status. There are nearly 52 million Latinos in the U.S. — about 17 percent of the total U.S. population.

“Healthy relationships matter, and the women I see are some of the most vulnerable,” says Marrs Fuchsel. “To promote the well-being of Latino families is my calling.”

By Julie Michener