The School of Social Work is sad to announce the passing of Professor Emeritus James (Jim) Ajemian who taught at SDSU from 1970-2003. He died in his home on February 14, 2018. He is mourned by faculty and generations of students. Dr. Tom Packard, who had the opportunity to be taught by Jim and later to be his colleague, remembered “his passion and commitment to social and racial justice and his collegiality, even with us as students. He was a fantastic mentor and then for many years a valued colleague.”
Jim earned his BA from Harvard University, MSSW from Columbia University, and PhD from the University of Michigan. Jim was an active community organizer. He worked as a family social worker and community organizer before coming to SDSU. In San Diego, he was part of a multidisciplinary grant from the US Department of Education, which funded community projects. He organized and helped run a community food co-op and worked with newly resettled Vietnamese immigrants.
It is not surprising that Jim inspired many students to start non-profit organizations in San Diego. A former student and founder and now CEO of the Environmental Health Coalition, Diane Takvorian, stated that “Jim Ajemian was an inspiring role model for me as a graduate social work student. He was a strong, compassionate and brilliant Armenian man who integrated clinical and organizing work in his practice and teachings to advance social justice. We shared a common story being children and grandchildren of Armenian genocide survivors. He used that history to inform his efforts to combat genocide and fight for peace as evidenced by his statement in a 2004 LA Times article: ‘We must come to recognize not only the futility of war and its consequences but also that, as human beings on this planet, if we are not self-aware we can be capable of the worst atrocities against humanity without giving them a second thought while we bask in our safe, secure lives.'”
Jim demonstrated his commitment to social justice and human rights in the courses he taught: Cultural Pluralism (SW 350), Human Behavior (SW 619), and Community and Organizations (SW 632). His teaching was oriented around a social constructionist framework. Jim was a strong and consistent critic of capitalism and the inequalities of US and global social order. His thinking was crystalized in his book, Shorn of Our Masks: Realizing Globalization’s Co-opting of the Soul.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Concepción (Concha) Barrio, who served on the Social Work faculty at SDSU from 1998 to 2006. He had three sons and three grandsons. Our condolences are sent to the family.
A CHAMPION OF MEN
(for Dr. James Ajemian, Professor, SDSU School of Social Work, 1970-2003)
©2003 Sylvia Cameron Telafaro
He was a champion,
I knew it when I first met him,
A defender of causes rather than men
That man Dr. Jim Ajemian.
Gentleness filled with fierce intent
When it came to his beliefs and his convictions.
Teaching, quietly, instructing by example,
Illuminating with principles that have yet
To be discovered, or even understood by mere
Proving humility, by not thinking less of himself
But thinking of himself less and less
taking on small causes that brought down big mountains
that ordinary men would refuse to tackle or climb.
He was a champion that man Dr. Jim Ajemian.
Interacting in communities that would never be the
same. Because of Jim, they came…………………
They came together experiencing the exhilaration that
comes with self-empowerment, Instilling convictions,
“One person can make a difference, starting not with the
world but with yourself and your community.”
Jim came, embracing Eastern metaphysical principles
and philosophies, yet adopting only his values, (Ajemian
style) sprinkled with a genuine acceptance of the
Diversity that the universe had gifted to him, simply
because he was a champion.
He is the Champion of the Champion of Men, that Man,
Dr. Jim Ajemian.