The National Association of Social Workers Foundation has awarded second-year MSW student Stephany N. Mejia the Consuelo W. Gosnell Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship recognizes master’s degree candidates in social work who have demonstrated a commitment to working with, or who have a special affinity with, American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations. Mejia is a first-generation college student who is interested in mental health issues and in serving the Latinx population and the Latinx LGBTQ community.
“Currently, there really are no resources in North Carolina specific to those populations,” she said. “As someone who identifies as Latinx and queer, it’s also very important to me to be able to have an impact as a practitioner on the actual community that I’m also a part of.”
Over the last year, Mejia further demonstrated her commitment to racial equity and issues of social justice by co-founding the grassroots initiative, “Aliadas,” (meaning allied). The group works to foster mutual support, community building, and empowerment among women of color.
“The formation of this group really came from a need to be validated and to create community with others,” she said. “Our goal is to bridge the needs not just for Latinx women but for trans women and Black women and other marginalized communities.”
Mejia has also long been interested in youth development, education and school success. That interest evolved from her own experiences as an undergrad at N.C. State University, where she earned a degree in sociology and nonprofit studies. As a person of color from an immigrant family and as someone who grew up in a low-income household with a single mother, Mejia said she was often uncertain about how best to navigate the primarily White institution.
“I knew there were other people struggling with the same issues I was struggling with,” she said. “That’s when I really began to think about how can I be of service to others and help them to live their best lives.”
Since enrolling in the School’s MSW program, Mejia has worked diligently to be an advocate for the Latinx community and to serve as a mentor to high school youth, said assistant professor Will Hall, who nominated Mejia for the Gosnell scholarship. Over the past year, she worked closely with Juntos, a nonprofit in Wake County that supports Latinx students in North Carolina to achieve high school graduation and enroll in college. Like Mejia, many of the students in the program struggled to balance life at home and life at school, she said.
To further support and empower these students, Mejia spent months helping them to publish a collection of poems, memoirs, essays, vignettes and letters that embrace their family roots and advocate for immigrant communities. The book, “The Roots of our People: From One World to Another, Juntos!” was published in May.
Mejia’s passion for helping her community is why she is so deserving of the Gosnell award, Hall said. “Stephany is an incredible person and emerging social work leader dedicated to the healing and empowerment of Latinx youth, women, and families.”