Marissa Ditoro is a perfect fit for her job as the Algoma University Students’ Union Equity Centre director.
A graduate of the university’s Bachelor of Social Work program from 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 Centre is basically a collection of services that existed before as student clubs and organizations that AUSU eventually undertook. It’s a rebranding within AUSU,” she said, speaking to SooToday.
Those clubs, organizations and causes include the university’s Pride Centre, The Food Pantry, The People’s Garden, the bursary program and Walk Safe, among others.
The Equity Centre helps students who face challenges, such as international students looking for housing, dealing with food insecurity, assists LGBTQ students in accessing services at the Pride Centre, helps students who may feel unsafe on campus and those in financial need with bursary applications.
“That’s what we look to fill. I think there are often more gaps than services so we try to work with the university and the community to address those gaps. We find Algoma U and the different partners work quite well together in addressing large scale issues,” Ditoro said.
“The most obvious need is food because of the high number of students who come to the Food Pantry. We went from 40 or 50 students a week a year and a half ago to over 200 a week which is an exponential rise and directly tied to the cost of housing and high tuition costs for international students and domestic students.”
Ditoro credited Harvest Algoma in particular for its help in addressing food insecurity on campus.
“We go there every week for donations. We probably get on average $500 to $1,000 in donations every week and we also do fundraising for the Food Pantry.”
The centre has stepped up to loan out bicycles to students to help them get around town, helping students who feel they are being discriminated against by a landlord by referring them to the Landlord Tenant Board or legal aid, directing them to health care services and supporting students going through academic appeals.
In regards to other issues students may face, Ditoro said discrimination does indeed happen in an overt way off campus and through microaggressions on campus, in which international students feel they have not received a fair grading on their assignments based on race.
“We try to work on those things through policy reviews with working groups. We work together,” Ditoro said.
Ditoro is enthused that the centre is involved with more in person events recently after COVID lockdowns and restrictions, such as a drag show which raises funds for the Group Health Centre’s HIV/AIDS Resource Program (HARP).
“I love it. There’s so much to do. There are so many things going on all at once. These things are all very different but they’re working toward the same end goal which is support for students and ensuring 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 bring forward.”
“It’s so cool.”
“This is a really nice job because it doesn’t feel like work at all, being able to work with the students.”
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Ditoro moved to southern Ontario with her family during her teens.
An Algoma University student recruitment fair down south attracted her to the school.
“They took us snowshoeing on the recruitment tour and I was blown away by how cool Sault Ste. Marie is, and also for the education.”
As a student, Ditoro competed in varsity cross country running and Nordic skiing while also being a student residence advisor and AUSU member.
“I tried to involve myself in every possible thing on campus.”
She said she also enjoys working at the institution because it allows her to still interact with professors 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 home in her heart, she said “I do prefer Canada.”
Describing herself as 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 cool things about Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma. It’s a special place. There’s something about Algoma University and the work that’s being done here.”