Victor Diaz came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was just seven years old. Originally planning to pursue music in college, Diaz first joined the Marines where he learned “the importance of having social workers and mental health workers more actively involved with our service members and their families.” Diaz eventually found himself at SUNY Fredonia where he studied social work and sociology. He credits his wife, another close friend, and SSW instructor Elaine Hammond for convincing him to apply to UB’s MSW program.
Reflecting on his experience in the Marines, Diaz said, “the military culture is very paternalistic; it can be toxic to a family unit’s mental health. I saw so many Marines and sailors who weren’t receiving the treatment needed to deal with the challenges that they would be facing as they integrated into civilian life. The military doesn’t do a good job of training service members on how to reintegrate; society is missing the tribal rituals and communal feel that the military embeds into our members.”
This experience influenced his desire to pursue social work. “I would like to work with veterans, but I think that there is a need in the immigrant community for bilingual advocates,” said Diaz. “I’m still trying to figure out where I would be the most useful.”
Diaz’ first field placement was with Attica Correctional Facility, where he experienced a great deal of self-growth. “I was not willing to compromise to help people,” he said. “I learned that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.” Diaz interned at the VA, where he put his experience as a veteran to good use. Over time, Diaz realized that his clients were less concerned with his experience as a Marine, and more interested in his ability to help them.
Diaz acknowledges Dr. Nam, Dr. Christopher St. Vil, Hammond and adjunct professor Lauren Maguire for helping shape his views on social workers. “Much of what they taught me was the importance of one’s humanity and the importance of the application of knowledge,” he said. “Being smart is cool, but using your intelligence for the benefit of humanity is what we should be striving for.”
As for the future, Diaz has applied to the Army Social Work program, with hopes of being “commissioned as an officer and serve in the military as a social worker.”
Diaz wants to let future social workers know that it’s important to be “as open-minded as possible.”
“That does not mean you have to let go of your moral and values,” he summed up. “Just be open to the idea that you might be wrong—remember that your experience with the world is different than other people’s.”