When Marissa Ditoro left Omaha, Nebraska, she never imagined herself returning to her birth country. Upon moving to Milton, Ontario, she vowed to earn her post-secondary education and work in Canada. However, just three years into her degree at Algoma University, and her plans are rapidly changing.
“When I first came to university, I wanted to be a social worker. I don’t want to do that anymore,” she admits. “At least, not in the traditional sense of what a social worker does.”
Over the course of the past year, Ditoro was exposed to radical social work theology in her coursework, which had a dramatic impact on her career aspirations. A course with Dr. Barbara Waterfall, titled “Concepts of Wellness in the North”, which put experiential learning at the forefront, and emphasized activist work on current events, including issues around Standing Rock, Water is Life, and Idle No More movements, kept Ditoro’s interest.
“I really enjoyed the course. It wasn’t your typical lecture class. We started every class by smudging and then Professor Waterfall would drum and sing a song. We would rearrange the chairs into a circle and start off talking about the course readings and how they affected us personally, and then apply them to everyday life. For example, we would relate the issues in the readings back to the Government of Canada and what the government was doing or not doing and how it was affecting citizens.”
Seven candles were lit around the sharing circle that happened in every class, each candle representing one of the seven grandfather teachings. “So we would bring in humility, courage, honesty, etc. into our learning circle.”
The course was Ditoro’s first that departed from clinical social work. Rather than focusing on how counselling can help someone, the course practiced how immediate action and intervention can bring about change. “I’m not one to sit around and talk about how we can create change. I want to make change. I want to be actively involved. So this course really opened up my eyes to a different tract of social work.”
The course, coupled with her extra-curricular activities, has Ditoro ready to return to America to tackle key issues. “I’m really interested in environmental issues and boundary issues, which are at the forefront of American politics at the moment. I’m really interested in going back to America now and making change and protecting the environment. I’m not afraid to tackle these big issues or to take the unpopular opinion per say, if it means doing the right thing. And Algoma has helped me do that. Algoma is helping me to realize that I can push the boundaries or push the envelope. They’ve given me many opportunities to do just that.”
Currently, Ditoro serves as the Women’s Affair representative on the Algoma University Students’ Union, where she advocates for female-identifying persons. She’s also an active member on the Varsity Council and is a Residence Advisor. Throughout her tenure in these various roles, she has become a steady voice for equality, feminism, food security, environmental issues, and more.