Ms. Meriel LaForce is a student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program at Winona State University. She embodies the commitment to advocacy, ethics, and civic engagement that describes a Newman Civic Fellow. Ms. LaForce is an effective advocate. She identifies barriers to success and acts to remove them for others. She has been recognized for her work advocating for women, the BIPOC community, the Latinx community, immigrants, first generation college students, and the LGBTQIA+ community, receiving the WSU Gaylia Borror Human Advocacy Award. Specifically, she has served as a Spanish language interpreter in the K-12 school setting during COVID as well as developed online access to food banks, free internet providers, and rental assistance. She has also made major contributions of time and talent to Winona State’s Office of Equity and Inclusive Excellence and our Knowledge, Empowerment, Advocacy, and Pluralism Center. Winona State University is honored to have her represent our university in the program.
My identity as a Latinx Woman and my life experiences have shaped who I am, and what I advocate for. I am the oldest daughter of an immigrant mother from Guatemala. My mom did not know much English when I was growing up. As the oldest, I took the responsibility of being my mother’s translator and helped raise my two youngest sisters. I learned that helping others was my calling. Today, I am a graduate student getting a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. During my graduate studies, I completed a project with peers called “Supporting Transgender Clients: Group Counseling Strategies,” which we presented at the Minnesota School Counselors Association conference in Fall 2021. My job as a Graduate Assistant for the Office of Equity & Inclusive Excellence and Career Services has helped me connect and build relationships with diverse students at Winona State University. I am also a Student Equity Consultant for the Equity 2030 Multi-campus Collaboration Grant Project: Qualitative Interview of WSU BIPOC Students. I try to be as involved as I can in my community because I think representation matters, and it matters for other young Latinx individuals to see others like themselves in leadership roles.