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Alexandria Meranto, MSW '19

Alexandria Meranto showing a mandala to others.

Her fight against systemic racism is just beginning—and she’s got the tools to get started

By Jana Eisenberg

Like many people, before she learned what social workers actually do, and what the field encompasses, Alexandria Meranto, MSW ’19, had misconceptions about it. While researching and applying to the UB School of Social Work, though, she learned what’s important to social workers. Discovering what makes many of them tick, and also the practically unlimited variety of job settings and applications for social work, above and beyond the stereotype (people usually think of Child Protective Services), was eye-opening.

Also, like many who come to the field, her journey is not a straight one, but a winding road—and she’s just getting started.

Meranto, a native of North Tonawanda, a small city about 15 miles north of Buffalo, first came to Buffalo and UB for her undergraduate studies. The topics in her dual major, psychology and American studies, opened her eyes further to the world’s deeply ingrained systemic racism, awakening her desire to be involved in working towards social justice.

“I’d always cared about social justice, but after I learned more about the hidden history of marginalized people through my major, I realized that the only way to change things like systemic racism is to work towards it; it’s not going to go away on its own,” said Meranto.

After graduating in 2014, she took a few years to try out different “good-for-the-world” jobs, seeking her niche. That included volunteering with local organizations like Coalition for Economic Justice and Peace of the City, and eventually serving a year with AmeriCorps.

It was then that she began to think of—and have recommended to her multiple times—the field of social work. “When I looked into it, I saw that social workers care about all the things I care about, like human rights and social justice,” she said. “Social work is so many things—it’s clinical, it’s macro; you can work in any setting that cares about human beings.”

At first, she intended to be a school social worker, but then had the realization that, because of the broad base of historical reference she had from her undergraduate studies, she’d prefer the bigger picture versus working one-on-one with students.

“I wanted to find something that combats racial injustice,” she said. “I really can’t ignore that aspect of life anymore.”

An important part of the School of Social Work experience is field education, and for Meranto, it was formative. “I was the very first intern at the Erie County Restorative Justice Coalition (ECRJC), which was formed in 2013.”

The organization does trainings and raises awareness about restorative practices, an alternative to punishment-based conflict resolution and a way to work to repair harm caused by conflict, crime or violence, by strengthening communities from within and involving the offender, the victim and the community. Ideally, restorative practices proactively create more just communities and systems.

“One of the things I helped with was ECRJC’s annual Restorative Justice Day at UB. It’s a popular event that teaches the community about restorative justice,” she said. “After talking with my field educators, we decided to promote the event on Facebook and Instagram—we had over 200 people attend including community members and those from UB. It was a full day, from 9 to 5, and I saw a lot of people who stayed all day. It was beautiful. We got great reactions; some said it was the best training they’d ever gone to. Everybody got something out of it.”

“When people learn about restorative practices, many are changed,” attested Meranto. “One friend who works as a Buffalo Public School substitute teacher had never heard of restorative practices. After attending the event, she said, ‘Why isn’t this being used in our schools?’ Our main speaker connected racism from slavery all the way to today—we also had a speaker from Native American Community Services, who talked about the harms done to indigenous people.”

Meranto now has set her sights on working within the prison system and with incarcerated people, “finding alternatives or making [incarceration] more humane,” she said. “I’m drawn to it because it’s a place where racial injustice is so evident. Restorative justice can be used as an alternative. It can be used to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, which so clearly targets communities of color.”

Restorative practices, and restorative justice, said Meranto, closely align with the School’s (and the larger field of social work’s) emphasis on a trauma-informed perspective. An example that demonstrates her choice of social work and her interest in restorative practices is from her time working in a public library.

“I would see people who were in clear need of help—maybe trying to get some sleep in the library—and having security guards yell [at] them to get out,” she said. “I thought about how social work would address the situation. We really need proactive alternatives to policing in many, many situations like that.”

With her MSW in hand, and her newfound confidence born of her time and training at the School of Social Work, Meranto is ready to move ahead in her journey.

“The School exceeded my expectations—I’m proud to identify as a social worker, it’s part of my identity,” she said. “Some of my professors changed the way I think and inspired me. While the program is academically challenging, I felt very supported: I went in nervous and uncertain, and now I feel a lot more sure of myself professionally and personally.”

Looking to build your confidence and find direction?

Learn more about the MSW programs at UB School of Social Work, and start your own journey! Contact us at swinfo@buffalo.edu.