Bruce Thompson: Smith SSW A Pivotal Experience

For Bruce Thompson, attending Smith School for Social Work was a pivotal experience. “It became an academic home for me unlike any other,” he recalled. “The beginning of what I knew was a very important and integrative step for me away from planning and administration and toward direct service and teaching.” Thompson has remained dedicated to teaching and advising at SSW and developing a career that fellow alum David Aronstein calls, “a shining example of how effective and important social workers can be in changing the lives of our clients and communities.”
Thompson was initially drawn to social work in the 1960s because he wanted to work with vulnerable populations and to work on progressive change from within a professional base.
After earning an M.S.W. from Syracuse University and a master’s from Harvard Public Health, Thompson coordinated the development of the Home Care Program of the new Department of Elder Affairs in Massachusetts and the opening of the new Braintree Hospital.
When Thompson began his doctoral work in 1980, the first LGBT student group at SSW had recently formed and students had successfully persuaded the School to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. “There was an emerging visibility of the SSW LGBT community and more dialogue about how the curriculum needed to reflect a healthier view of LGBT individuals and families,” he said.

Smith SSW became an academic home for me unlike any other. The beginning of what I knew was a very important and integrative step for me away from planning and administration and toward direct service and teaching.

Thompson was not simply an observer of these changes, but had, according to former Dean Katherine Gabel, “a lasting effect in terms of change in the school and openness of the curriculum.” AIDS was growing exponentially in the 1980s and in response, Thompson wrote his dissertation on how gay men were responding to the threat of the epidemic. He and fellow alum Caitlin Ryan also developed two of the country’s first LGBT social work courses, Gay and Lesbian Identity: Treatment Issues and AIDS: Clinical Social Work Responses.
While completing his degree, Thompson taught at Roger Williams University and started a private social work practice in Providence, primarily working with gay men. Thompson also held a clinical appointment at Brown University, advising the Department of Community Health on issues related to AIDS.
In the years since graduation, Thompson has continued his relationship with SSW. He was as an adjunct faculty member and a thesis advisor for decades, and he and David Aronstein co-edited HIV and Social Work: A Practitioner’s Guide, which included chapters by many Smith alums. Thompson also serves on the editorial board of Smith College Studies in Social Work. Recently, Thompson and fellow alum Steven Cadwell created the Smith SSW Endowed Fund for the Advancement of LGBTQ Studies in Clinical Social Work, ensuring the School will be an exceptional academic home for future generations of social workers as well.