Former Penn Athlete Gets People Talking on Tough Topics

Jennifer Jones Clinkscales really gets people talking.

As an undergraduate athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, she gained prominence as a part of the first team to bring home the women’s Ivy League basketball championship title, during the 2001-02 season.

After earning her degree in history from Penn in 2003, she had a calling. She knew that she enjoyed working with people and she wanted a meaningful profession that could offer many different ways to help others.

“I was always interested in family dynamics and relationships,” she says. “After a lot of reflection and research, I determined that social work was the best way to go.”

She returned to Penn earning a master’s degree in social work in ‘07.

As a graduate student at the School of Social Policy & Practice, she learned skills such as compassionate listening, one-on-one counseling and helping others to feel empowered by allowing them to see their own strengths.

“In social work, you help people to get from point A to point B. They may not know where they’re going or how to get there, but, as a social worker, you help them to create a road map that allows them to find their way and reach their goals,” says Jones Clinkscales.

The organizational and management skills that she has developed as a professional social worker are applicable in an array of settings. They have directly contributed to her successful on-the-job performance here at Penn as the associate director of student affairs at the School of Social Policy & Practice, where she provides emotional support and creates programming to enhance student life. This means coordinating new student orientations, issuing referrals to campus resources, working with student leaders to bring in external speakers and assisting with academic advising.

Ultimately, her goal is “to provide an environment where students can grow personally, emotionally and professionally,” she says.

In addition, part of her duties includes organizing the School’s “Race, Identity & Culture” series, offering participants dinner and roundtable discussions.

During these sessions, attendees talk about difficult subjects like racism or “coming out” as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and how those kinds of issues relate to race, identity and culture.

Under Jones Clinkscales’ guidance, the free public series, sponsored by the School and the African-American Resource Center, has become widely popular. The March event on “Race, Ethnicity and Social Equity in Public Education,” with guest William R. Hite Jr., the superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, is already filled. The series continues with an event on April 7.

“The more people become comfortable with talking about these tough topics,” says Jones Clinkscales, “the better we can address the often covert systemic issues that continue to divide us racially, socially and economically.”

Talking about race and other delicate topics remains challenging because it tends to make people feel uneasy, but it’s a beginning.

“Things can’t always be solved in one conversation,” says Jones Clinkscales. “People may still grapple with the struggle; that’s why these conversations are ongoing.”

On a part-time basis, Jones Clinkscales also serves as a marriage and family therapist at the Council for Relationships, a non-profit counseling, education and research center in University City. She works with individuals, couples and families on topics like separation, divorce, blended families, parenting, anxiety, anger management, depression and other relational concerns.

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