Running for Office, Pushing for Change

Community Engagement; Policy; Social Work; Students

Brown School students take great pride in their commitment to social justice and equity.  Second-year MSW student Kyle Oberle is no exception.

During a class project, Oberle began studying Maplewood Missouri’s nuisance ordinance which has drawnnationalattention, with the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council arguing that the law violates the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against residents based on race, sex and disability.

The ordinance allows the city of Maplewood to revoke an individual’s occupancy permit for up to six months if they are deemed to be a “chronic nuisance” — with disproportionate effects for African Americans, victims of domestic violence, and individuals with mental illness or a disability. The EHOC’s federal lawsuit calls Maplewood’s nuisance ordinance “one of the country’s most onerous.” The ACLU has also filed suit.

Oberle’s research about the nuisance ordinance deepened his commitment to ethical social and econo­mic development and ignited his interest in policy. Later that semester, as he searched for a concentration practicum opportunity, he found a placement at Maplewood City Hall. 

“I hoped to write a policy brief and submit it to the powers that be, after building relationships and learning more about the situation from the inside,” Oberle said. He and his wife are also residents of Maplewood. 

As his knowledge of policy increased, so did his desire to engage in high impact change.  When Maplewood announced a special election to fill a city council seat, he took notice. 

“It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to advance the issue enough in that role as a practicum student. Fortunately, while I was facing that reality, the special election was announced,” he said. “So I encountered a clear opportunity to further pursue the cause with an increased likelihood to directly affect change, should I be elected.” 

Oberle terminated his placement at Maplewood City Hall and gathered the requisite signatures from Maplewood residents and applied for candidacy. His application was accepted, and his name will be on the ballot when Maplewood’s Ward 1 votes for a new city council representative in April. 

After growing up in St. Louis, Oberle most recently worked as a Spanish and Science teacher for seven years before studying at the Brown School, Oberle hopes to bring a social work perspective to local government. 

His education has taught him to craft policy with evidence-based practices in mind, and he will continue to focus on mental health and housing initiatives in his current practicum with the Alliance for Building Capacity — and, he hopes, as a city council member.