Various student services discussed at Algoma University Equity Center

“The most obvious need is food due to the high number of students coming to the pantry. We have gone from 40 or 50 students a week a year and a half ago to more than 200 a week,” said Marissa Ditoro, director of the center.

Marissa Ditoro is a perfect fit for her position as Director of the Equity Center for the Student Union at Algoma University.

A graduate of the university’s Bachelor of Social Work program in the class of 2020, she now helps students navigate their way through a wide range of challenges.

“It’s been in the works for a few years now,” Ditoro said of the Equity Centre.

“The Equity Center is essentially a collection of services that previously existed as student clubs and organizations that AUSU eventually undertook. This is a brand change within AUSU,” she told SooToday.

These clubs, organizations, and causes include the university’s Pride Center, The Food Pantry, The People’s Garden, the scholarship program, and Walk Safe, among others.

The Equity Center helps students who face challenges, such as international students looking for accommodation, who face food insecurity, helps LGBTQ students access Pride Center services, helps students who may feel unsafe on campus and those in financial need with scholarship applications.

“That’s what we’re trying to fill. I think there are often more gaps than services, so we try to work with the university and the community to fill those gaps. We see that Algoma U and the various partners are working quite well together to resolve issues at scale,” Ditoro said.

“The most obvious need is food due to the high number of students coming to the Food Pantry. We have gone from 40 or 50 students per week a year and a half ago to over 200 per week, which is an exponential increase and directly related to the cost of housing and high tuition fees for international students and students nationals.

Ditoro particularly thanked Harvest Algoma for helping to address food insecurity on campus.

“We go there every week for donations. We probably get an average of $500-1000 in donations every week and we also fundraise for the Food Pantry.

The center decided to lend bikes to students to help them get around town, help students who feel discriminated against by a landlord by referring them to the Landlord Tenant Board or legal aid , directing them to healthcare services and supporting students through academic appeals.

Regarding other issues that students may face, Ditoro said that discrimination does occur in overt ways off campus and through on-campus microaggressions, in which international students feel not having received a fair grade for their homework based on their race.

“We try to work on these things through policy reviews with task forces. We work together,” Ditoro said.

Ditoro is excited that the center is participating in more in-person events recently after COVID-related closures and restrictions, such as a drag show raising funds for the HIV/AIDS Resource Program (HARP) from the Group Health Centre.

“I love it. There is so much to do. There are so many things going on at the same time. These things are all very different, but they have the same end goal which is to support students and ensure that people get what they need, when they need it and where they need it It’s nice to be able to work with so many different groups I’ve come into contact with so many students with so many diverse backgrounds and the enthusiasm they arouse.

“This is so cool.”

“It’s a very good job because it doesn’t feel like work at all, being able to work with the students.”

Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Ditoro moved to southern Ontario with his family during his teenage years.

An Algoma University student recruitment fair in the south attracted her to the school.

“They took us snowshoeing on the recruiting tour and I was blown away by how cool Sault Ste. Mary is, and also for education.

As a student, Ditoro participated in college cross-country running and Nordic skiing while also serving as a student residence councilor and member of AUSU.

“I tried to get involved in everything possible on campus.”

She said she also enjoys working at the institution as it allows her to continue interacting with the teachers she had when she was a student.

She enjoys mountain biking, snowboarding and surfing on Lake Superior in her spare time.

While Ditoro said Nebraska will always be at home in her heart, she said, “I prefer Canada.”

Describing herself as a progressive, she said: “I find people in Canada are much more open-minded and it’s easier to have conversations with people about certain things.”

“There are so many interesting things about Sault Ste. Mary and Algoma. It’s a special place. There is something about Algoma University and the work that is done there.