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Accidental Social Worker

She’s finding the universal in the personal

As a teenager, Indigo Sage ’16 didn’t need a curfew. She went to school, took dance class, came home to do homework, and slept. Ceramics and writing workshops, not parties. Goody “toe” shoes.

“That’s just what I thought I needed to do to get where I wanted to be,” says Sage, a case manager for Housing Counseling Services in Washington, D.C., who supports people living with HIV and AIDS.

But Swarthmore disrupted her straight line—and her perspective. It wasn’t about knowing all the answers, she realized, but about exploring and growing.

“I navigated my own self, my race,” she says, “not just academically, but in life.”

Before, she wouldn’t have internalized something like the 2014 Ferguson, Mo., shooting of Michael Brown. Now, it rattles her.

“Swarthmore challenged me to thoughtfully consider everything, and to really think about who I wanted to be,” says Sage. “That’s what’s made the biggest impact on the work I’ve done.”

At Housing Counseling Services, Sage marvels at the stories of her clients, some of whom have, for decades, been raising awareness of HIV/AIDS and fighting societal stigma while dealing with their own health issues. The hard part is watching them get sicker ... or even die. But through it all, Sage relishes the relationships.

“To have people trusting you with their lives and their experiences, their hopes, fears, worries,” she says, “is a privilege.”

Sage “stumbled” into social work, she says, after moving to D.C. She started with an organization that offered rapid rehousing to families, which she found rewarding, then took a similar post that saddened her to the point of wanting to leave the field.

“But I ended up choosing social work a third time,” she says.

Asked whether her 18-year-old self could have predicted this path, Sage laughs. Her intention to major in neuroscience lasted one semester. She knew she was interested in people, how they view the world and themselves, so she switched to psychology—and hated the first class. She zeroed in on anthropology before doing an “accidental” sociology thesis and a minor in Black studies.

“I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” she says.

Sage will eventually pursue a Ph.D. in psychology and practice therapy. But until then, she remains eager for direct experience with people for whom “just existing and getting out of the door every morning can be a traumatic experience.

“I wanted to be on the ground, seeing that firsthand,” she says. “Not sitting at the top of a tower, making judgments and rules, without getting to know the world that shapes these experiences.”