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Q & A: Kalli Marsel talks about what it’s like to study social work at FIFSW

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What’s it like to study social work at U of T? We sat down (virtually) with Kalli Marsel over the summer to learn more about her first year as a student in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work’s Master of Social Work program and to hear about her ambitions for the future.

Tell us about yourself!

I am a Métis-identified student going into the second and last year of my Master of Social Work at U of T’s FIFSW. I am originally from the Okanagan, British Columbia. I moved to Toronto to pursue my education and career in the field of health and mental health.

What inspired you to pursue an MSW in social work?
I have always been fascinated by healing. Often when people think of healing, it’s physical or biological. What I admire about social work, is its ability to integrate holistic healing. This not only includes physical or biological but also mental, emotional, spiritual, and community healing.

What societal issues most concern you and what role do you think social work can play in addressing them?
Historically, social workers have developed strained relationships with Indigenous peoples, and the historic impacts of colonialism continue to impact all aspects of Indigenous structures. One of the main things that drives me as a social worker is reconciliation. I believe that social workers can play a vital role in transformative action working both with and for Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups.

As social workers, we must sit down with individuals and communities to actively forge lasting relationships that will lead to positive change. Societal issues I hope to address in my career include health and mental health inequalities, poverty, homelessness, drugs and addictions, the housing crisis, and oppression experienced by marginalized groups.

Could you tell us about one of your professors from your first year?
Dr. Toula Kourgiantakis inspires me to constantly improve my social work practice. The first day I walked into her class, ‘Elements of Social Work Practice,’ she spoke with such confidence and poise. I found these qualities to be contagious and students were eager to learn from her. Toula provides students with a strong foundation linking social work theory to everyday practice. I look forward to continue learning from her in ‘Family-Centered Practice in Addictions and Mental Health’ in my second year of studies.

Tell us about your fellow students.
Unifying with like-minded individuals who are passionate about driving the same changes you wish to work towards is invaluable. I feel incredibly lucky to have met many friends and classmates in my FIFSW cohort who I know will one day become my colleagues and allies of change in our future practices as social workers.

What kind of challenges you have faced?
Growing up in a community with a strong Indigenous presence, and identifying as Indigenous, presents both challenges and strengths in the development of client-practitioner relationships. On the one hand, my Indigeneity and traditional ecological knowledge will strengthen practitioner-client relationships. On the other, the title ‘social worker’ may trigger past and intergenerational traumas or stigma, straining potential relationships. I look forward to navigating these strengths and challenges in the future with other Indigenous-identified social workers.

What kind of activities have you pursued outside the classroom?
One of my favourite things to do at U of T is to explore its unique campus and abundance of libraries. Some of the activities that I have participated in outside of the classroom include the university’s group fitness classes, public lectures, student and community-led panels, webinars, and collective human rights advocacy.

For those thinking of applying to FIFSW’s MSW program, what would you say are the school’s main strengths?
FIFSW offers a wide array of knowledge, skill, and expertise development. Students have the opportunity to learn from different professionals, perspectives, theories, and practices. This allows students to critically reflect on our positionalities and biases, which in turn, shapes us to become better future practitioners. FIFSW is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, exposing students to a variety of experiences. There is something really exciting about being right where the action is unfolding in front of you.

What do you hope to achieve with your degree?
I hope to navigate the field of health and mental health working with and for my clients. Like many of my colleagues, my goal is to create the change that I wish to see. I intend to create a brighter future for my children, their children, and the many generations that will follow.

Recommended reading

Kalli recommends Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, by the late Gregory Younging, a former professor of hers at the University of British Columbia – Okanagan, and publisher of Theytus Books, the first Indigenous-owned publishing house in Canada.

“Greg fortified me with knowledge and support that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” says Kalli. “He exemplified kindness and compassion in every interaction and lent his voice advocating for those who were unable to speak for themselves. Generous with his time, knowledge, and efforts, he advocated for Indigenous peoples wherever he was able to. He courageously listened to over 6000 testimonies from Indian residential school survivors, worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and aided the formulation of the TRC’s Calls to Action. Greg led me on the path to where I am today and believed in me when I didn’t have it in me to believe in myself, and for this, I am eternally thankful. ”


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