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Advocate and Friend

Falk College Remembers Professor Emeritus Alejandro Garcia
Alejandro Garcia
Alejandro Garcia, Professor Emeritus of social work in Falk College.

Alejandro Garcia, Professor Emeritus of social work in Falk College, died Nov. 17, 2023. He was 83.

A professor of social work at Syracuse University since 1978, Garcia is known as a and an exceptionally generous and engaged colleague, teacher, and scholar whose many contributions extend well beyond the University’s boundaries. He taught gerontology, social policy, and human diversity courses for over 43 years, shaping Falk College’s School of Social Work and generations of students. He held the Jocelyn Falk Endowed Professorship of Social Work at the time of his retirement in 2021.

“Alejandro possessed a deep personal commitment to advancing social, racial, and economic justice, particularly for older adults, Hispanics, and many others,” says Eric Kingson, also a professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work and close friend of Garcia for 45 years. “He made lifelong connections with people and had an impact on so many lives as a social worker, teacher, mentor, advocate, and scholar—and as a friend. The kind of friend that is more like family.”

Carrie Smith, professor in Falk College’s School of Social Work remembers Garcia as a treasured member of the social work, Falk College, and Syracuse University communities, and one of the first people to welcome her to the School of Social Work more than 28 years ago. “His interest and reach beyond the University are evident in the numerous awards and commendations that he has received over a lifetime of dedicated service to advancing social justice and improving the lives of all people, especially those who have experienced oppression,” she says. “He was a dedicated professional and he worked tirelessly to teach his students to understand the importance of committed, competent, and sometimes courageous social work endeavors.

“I am indebted to him for his kindness and generosity to me through the years. He will be missed, but, just as importantly, he will always be remembered,” Smith adds.

Raised in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Brownsville, Texas, Garcia was one of six children of parents who migrated from Mexico. After learning English in grade school, he was recognized as an outstanding student. His musical talent propelled him into the best high school in Brownsville at a time when discrimination and racism limited such opportunities.

Garcia was one of very few Hispanics studying at the University of Texas, and after graduation he enlisted in the United States Army. He earned his Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) degree at California State University Sacramento where, years later, he received the “Distinguished Service Award d was designated by its School of Social Work as “The Social Work Educator of the Decades,” He was recruited by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) to fill a new leadership role as the National Student Coordinator.

Encouraged by NASW leadership to pursue doctoral studies, Garcia was accepted a few years later at Brandeis University’s Florence Heller School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare. That led to one of the very first studies of the economic status of elder Chicanos and Chicanas, a dissertation entitled “The Contribution of Social Security to the Adequacy of Income of Elderly Mexican Americans.” An elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance and Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America, he was also designated by the NASW as a “Social Work Pioneer.”

Alejandro Garcia received the 2013 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award presented by then-Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy on behalf of the School of Social Work.

Alejandro Garcia received the 2013 Dan and Mary Lou Rubenstein Social Justice Award presented by then-Falk College Dean Diane Lyden Murphy on behalf of the School of Social Work.

Jennifer Genovese, assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Work, first met Garcia when she was a student at Syracuse. Garcia was one of her professors, and when she received her M.S.W. in 1983, he spoke at the Convocation ceremony.

Genovese recalls the words he shared that day, which were later published in his article, “Reflections of a Latino in the Social Work Profession” (2014):

I suggest that there has never been a greater need for the social work profession to be the conscience of society. Now is the time to be heard: to reiterate our commitment to those who cannot care for themselves, to condemn an era of narcissism and ethnocentricity, and to re-establish the spirit of humanitarianism that has been an essential ingredient of American society. We must be heard. We must speak and be guided by the spirit that emanates from the depths of our hearts and the wisdom of our minds. We have guiding principles that speak to the dignity of the individual and advocacy for the downtrodden. With our voices in unison, we can be heard, and we can work toward effective change. We can regain our place as the conscience of American society. We must keep our priorities clear: We have a responsibility to those who cannot provide for themselves. We have responsibilities to continues aggressive efforts toward the eradication of poverty, racism, sexism, and homophobia. We cannot allow our society to capitulate to narcissistic, self-serving interest. We cannot allow what Carl Rowen calls “a spirit of meanness” to pervade this county. We must make certain that terms like compassion, commitment, social justice, and equality continue to be an integral part of our essential vocabulary and focus. Only then can we affirm the meaning of our profession.

“Dr. Alejandro Garcia’s inspirational words from 1983 continue to ring true in 2023 and remain part of his everlasting legacy,” says Genovese.

Over the years, Garcia served in many other leadership roles, including most recently as an Emeritus Board Member of the Syracuse Rescue Mission, Chair of AARP’s National Policy Council, Chair of the National Hispanic Council on Aging, member of the boards at the Syracuse’s Spanish Action League and the Council of Social Work Education and NASW. He received the Scholar/Teacher of the Year award at Syracuse University and was recognized as a “Hometown Hero” by its National Veterans Resource Center. He served as the Director of the School of Social Work for two years and in many other leadership roles.

Garcia co-edited three books, including “Elderly Latinos: Issues and Solutions for the 21st Century” (with Marta Sotomayor in 1993), “HIV Affected and Vulnerable Youth Prevention Issues and Approaches” (with Susan Taylor-Brown in 1999), and “La Familia: Traditions and Realities” (with Sotomayor in 1999). He also authored numerous articles and book chapters and served on the editorial boards of several Social Work Journals and the Encyclopedia of Social Work.

Most notably, Garcia was a remarkably kind, generous, and gregarious man who loved spending time with family and friends sharing his humor, laughter, and broad knowledge of art, literature, Hispanic culture, Social Work, Syracuse, and so much more.

The Falk College family extends its deepest sympathy to Dr. Alejandro Garcia’s family, friends, colleagues, and students.

By faculty colleagues of Alejandro Garcia. Obituary excerpts used with permission of the author.