Brown School alumnus Peter Jacob, MSW ’10, is seeking election as the representative for New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District, an area adjacent to New York City that includes dense, diverse neighborhoods, as well as more rural farming communities.
Though new to politics, Jacob believes his social work background will help him to “place the public back in public service.” In fact, that’s become his campaign slogan. Jacob sees a direct correlation between policy decisions and individual quality of life, and he urges other social workers to get involved in political process.
“Advocacy for our clients should not cease with the end of a session or when we punch out at the end of the day,” he said. “We have a duty to be a voice for the public’s interest.”
Jacob credits his Brown School coursework and practicum experiences as key in his development as an activist. He pursued a concentration in Social and Economic Development and a specialization in Management.
“My education at the Brown School enabled me to understand the intersection between the social, economic, and political environment,” he said. “[As a social worker] you must understand law, public policy, economics, management, how to intervene, and it is all guided by compassion and evidence-based practice.”
Through his first field placement at the International Institute, Jacob coordinated the Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking campaign. His concentration practicum at the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program taught him clinical skills and an emphasis on listening, which he says is one of the most important skills for anyone holding public office. “When I do direct practice or when I go door-to-door meeting my fellow constituents, it’s important to listen,” he says. “Democracy is a two-way street.”
Jacob also traveled to Nepal and India with Brown School faculty members Trish Kohl, Gautam Yadama and Shanta Pandey,to study the intersections of mental health, gender and poverty. The journey broadened Jacob’s understanding of the ways social and political issues reverberate in an increasingly interconnected world—and the opportunities that exist for cross-national collaboration and learning.
Jacob, who is from Union, N.J., returned to the area after graduating from Washington University. His professional trajectory has included coalition-building and supervision at the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. He then served as a Residential Program Manager at SERV Behavioral Health System, Inc., a statewide organization that serves clients with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities. He also works as Vice President of the small business his parents launched after emigrating to the U.S. from India in the 1980s.
Serving in St. Louis and New Jersey, he said, has taught him about the realities of mental health issues, substance abuse and income inequality. He now hopes to carry that understanding into service in public office. District 7 is currently represented by Republican incumbent Rep. Leonard Lance, who has held the seat since 2009.
“Washington needs more leaders that reflect the people they represent,” Jacob says. “As a social worker I’m in a unique position to engage in social change.”