July 8, 2022
Meet-a-Ram: Kwasi Deitutu
The graduate social work student tells us how his 20 years of experience in the U.S. military led him to join a field designed to help others.
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Editor’s note: Meet-a-Ram is a VCU News series about the students, employees and graduates who make Virginia Commonwealth University such a dynamic place to live, work and study. Today, we meet Kwasi Deitutu, a Master of Social Work student in the School of Social Work. Deitutu enlisted in the U.S. Army at 23. He retired at the rank of sergeant first class. Deitutu’s years in the military took him to bases around the country and around the world including to South Korea, (where he watched World Cup soccer matches and met President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice at the Osan Air Base after 9/11), Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan as a senior enlisted adviser for logistics at the U.S. Embassy. Passionate about soccer, the 46-year-old Deitutu works as a referee for adult leagues around Central Virginia.
Why are you pursuing social work and how does that connect to your military career?
There's a strong connection there. The reason I went into social work was because going to Afghanistan and Iraq, we went through a lot of traumatic experiences. A lot of our soldiers are seeking help. That's how I found out about social work, by helping other people who needed help with family issues and problems at home. I was trying to help people find resources to help themselves. I find the campus life interesting and exciting because the majority of the students are in the age groups of the soldiers I used to train and lead in the U.S. Army. My first-year field placement is with the Institute for Public Health Innovation, and I am hoping to complete my second-year field placement at the [Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Hospital].
Why did you choose VCU?
I chose to study at VCU because it is a world-class school with one of the best master’s in social work programs in the nation with a diverse student body. My motivation comes from the desire to become a role model for young people of all races and backgrounds from all over the world and also from my mother in Ghana, West Africa, who after giving birth to six children went back to middle and high school and to a teacher training college to become a teacher. I aspire to continue to a Ph.D. program, hopefully at a university in New York City. I enjoy helping people.
You are vice president of the VCU Chapter of the National Association of Black Social Workers. Why did you decide to be a part of that organization?
I wanted to be a part of the National Association of Black Social Workers because I wanted to learn how to help a marginalized community. I use that platform to also learn from others and lead.
You've been a leader, and you’ve been led by others. What's your philosophy on leadership?
My philosophy is to set an example and plan ahead. In the military, we plan like 24 months ahead on everything. We have a long-term plan, and we bring it backward. Gen. Hal Moore said, "There is always one more thing you can do to influence a situation in your favor – and after that, one more thing, and after that ... The more you do, the more opportunities arise.” That's my leadership.
You're from Ghana in West Africa. You've traveled all over this country and the world with the U.S. military, so what makes your worldview special?
I like dealing with a diverse environment. I can go to United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, and dress like them and blend in. I can feel comfortable wherever I go. My worldview is that you must be able to adapt and blend in and live with and relate to different people. You shouldn't only live with one group of people. I'm also a member of the VCU Afghan Student Association because I spent 27 months in Afghanistan.
What has been your favorite class at VCU?
SLWK-603: Power, Privilege and Oppression. That class taught me a lot. We had a project where we had to go to an environment different from ours, a place that you're not comfortable with, and you engage with people that you're not used to. I'm Christian, but I went to a mosque to pray with them. We also went on a tour of Richmond to learn the history.
Who is your favorite professor?
Allison Gilbreath is my favorite professor because I learned a lot about myself in her Power, Privilege and Oppression class. She is passionate about the subject she teaches, cares about the students, and responds promptly to emails and questions. She has empathy. She brought some excellent guest speakers to the class, and I learned something from all of the guest speakers. She took the entire class to the Maggie L. Walker statue to teach us about her life. In class, she teaches us relaxation and stress reduction methods. I also appreciate her work in advocacy on behalf of vulnerable populations.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
Cabell Library’s third floor. That’s where I spend most of my time studying.
Who are your dream dinner companions?
President George W. Bush, Pele, Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley.
What is your favorite meal?
My favorite American meal is buffalo wings, cornbread and grits. My favorite African meal is kenkey, a dish similar to sourdough dumpling. Kenkey is eaten by Ghanaians from all walks of life as well as visitors. It tastes better when it is freshly cooked and served with shito hot pepper sauce and fried fish, soup or stew.
What is your favorite TV show or movie, book or play?
My favorite TV show is “106 & Park,” a countdown hip-hop show on BET from the early 2000s because I lived in Harlem when the show was being produced. I love the hip-hop, R&B, reggae and dancehall music videos played during the show. I also like some of the presenters, like Big Tigger, A.J. and Free.
My favorite book is “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I am drawn to the concept of flow, a state of mind in which I become fully immersed in an activity and nothing else seems to matter. Flow helps me develop skills to regulate my emotions. When I am in flow, I do not feel any pain. A quote from the author that supports why it is my favorite book is, "The best moments in our lives are not the passive receptive relaxing times ... the best moments usually occur if a person's body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile."
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