January 7, 2021 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Siham Elkassem, BSW '15, MSW '16, may no longer be a King’s student (she is currently completing her PhD studies at Memorial University in Newfoundland), but she still maintains strong ties to her community here. In addition to being the alumni representative on the King’s/Brescia Joint Principals’ Anti-Racism Working Group, Elkassem has just completed a community project and publication with Dr. Rick Csiernik, Professor in King’s School of Social Work.

The research project, with the support of an Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) Research Grant, has resulted in the publication of an article, Gatekeeper Perspectives of Substance Misuse Among a Muslim Community in Southwestern Ontario, Canada in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Additions.

The study examined the perspectives of “gatekeepers” (trusted faith and community leaders and professionals) on substance use and misuse within a Muslim community in Southwestern Ontario. Three major themes were identified in the study: the impact of Islam on responses to psychoactive substance use and misuse, the role of family and community, and challenges Muslims face in seeking help for substance misuse.

Having seen difficult situations and deaths in her community directly related to substance use and misuse as a child, as a youth advocate, and as a family therapist, Elkassem believes the issue is both important and timely. “Against the backdrop of racial injustice and oppression, coupled with mental health difficulties and coping with substance, racialized people in Canada, many of which are from within Muslim communities in London, may not have the resources within substance use and abuse programs that consider these contexts,” she says.

Active within London’s Muslim community for over 20 years, Elkassem was thankful to have established connections with other helping professionals who are “really passionate about this work from within the Muslim community, and of course they were eager to share,” she says.

Elkassem was also thankful for the support she received from the King’s community, in reference to the faculty and staff of the School of Social Work who have made her feel a part of the King’s family even after graduation. She points to Dr. Csiernik, a mentor throughout her BSW and MSW education and a committee member for the PhD she is currently pursuing.

“Dr. Csiernik made me feel like I could be a successful academic. He has taught me so much throughout the years and is an example of what excellent teaching and mentorship can produce. Rick always welcomed my critical analysis of social work theory within the classroom and within our writings together,” she says.

Dr. Laura Beres, Associate Professor of the School of Social Work, was also an important mentor. “She has guided me throughout my academic work and always encouraged me to lend my voice and critical analysis within the social work profession,” says Elkassem.

Dr. Csiernik says he may have started as a mentor to Elkassem but he regards her as a peer as she served as the principal investigator. “Siham is not only an excellent direct practitioner, she is also an excellent beginning researcher. She is conceptualizing important questions that I would never ask because my lived reality is so different from hers and she is taking the lead in implementing changes based on the findings,” he explains. He says they work well together on their research endeavours because they know an evidence-informed approach is a strong way to create permanent positive change. 

“Working with her is a daily demonstration that everyone's voice is important, worth hearing, and can produce a positive impact on the community,” says Dr. Csiernik.

Dr. Csiernik says Elkassem exemplifies what students can achieve by fulling engaging in the learning opportunities the School of Social Work provides.  “What we want our Social Work students to be is curious, committed to social justice, committed to making the community healthier and more equitable.  The other aspect that the School promotes is one of collegiality for once our students graduate, they join the same professional association and professional College that the faculty belong to.”

“This work is a testament to the ongoing support and tutelage of excellent scholars/mentors within an institution that continues to maintain connections to their students even after they graduate,” says Elkassem.

As part of their project, Elkassem and Dr. Csiernik hired two King’s students from the Muslim community as research assistants: Amira Elkassem, 4th year Social Justice and Peace program with a minor in Psychology and Saleami Halbouni, ’19 BA Criminology and Sociology. The students’ assistance not only allowed for a smoother process, but it also offered Muslim youth to engage in research about their own community.  

To learn more about King’s School of Social Work, please visit https://socialwork.kings.uwo.ca/.

London Free Press: Lack of addiction help, family pressures weigh on London Muslims: Researcher

(Also reprinted in New York University's Information for Practice and DS Daily, a daily drug and alcohol news service from the United Kingdom)

CBC London: Researcher addresses barriers faced by Muslims seeking help with addictions