Toledo native Meheret Kassa practiced law for seven years, but eventually left the field because she wasn’t doing work she was passionate about.
Meheret (her name means ”mercy” in Amharic, an official language of Ethiopia) wanted to work in the mental health field as a social worker. “I have friends and relatives who would have had better lives if they had accessed mental health services earlier,” she says. “I want to engage with people directly, and social work embodies values that are important to me: access and equity and making sure that all people have opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic status. That is all embodied by social work and social justice. The U-M School of Social Work sees mental health not just in terms of pathology but in terms of social justice principles. We look at the whole person. U-M’s innovative work in integrated health was very attractive to me.”
Affording a master’s, though, would be a challenge. “I was still paying off law school loans,” Meheret explains. “I could not afford a big debt load. It’s a reality that some students can’t take on debt. But they are often the ones we want in this field, because they understand the challenges in low-income communities. If we exclude those folks, we undermine the profession.”
Meheret was ultimately able to secure funds. The School of Social Work has a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant providing stipends for those studying integrated behavioral health. Dacia Price, Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work, encouraged Meheret to apply. She qualified and received a field placement with the Western Wayne Family Health Center, part of the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority (DWMHA). “Now I am much more immersed in integrated health,” she says, “I am so thankful to Dacia and the School of Social Work. I am able to do work I am passionate about and that I care about deeply.” Now Meheret is able to provide mental health and primary care services before it may be too late—meaningful work that reflects her personal values.
Meheret also received a scholarship from our New Leaders in African Centered Social Work program, which gives students culturally specific training for service to African Americans. “New Leaders creates space for people interested in helping African American communities,” Meheret explains, “and I would like to thank all the donors who make New Leaders possible. As a non-white student you teach white students how to do this work, but you, yourself must have the tools and skills to work with populations you care about. It is important that we continue to engage Black students at the School of Social Work. Their work is important to the needs of their communities. There is also so much racism on interpersonal and institutional levels, and it’s important that social workers feel supported in combatting it.”