MSW Students Prisley Santana and Angel Gray Awarded CSWE Minority Fellowships

Prisley Santana and Angel Gray
Prisley Santana and Angel Gray

Class of 2020 MSW students Prisley Santana and Angel Gray have been awarded master's fellowships for the 2019-2020 academic year from the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Minority Fellowship Program (MFP). Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the program provides a stipend, training, and professional development supports to outstanding MSW students who are committed to providing behavioral health services to underserved minority communities after they graduate.

MFP Fellow Prisley Santana is particularly interested in providing school-based mental health services to racial and ethnic minority teens. “Growing up in Washington Heights,” she said, “my high school counselor made a tremendous difference in my life. She motivated me to become a social worker so I can help other minority youth succeed and live healthy lives.”

Santana is currently serving many young people of color through her field placement at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx, which is a member of NYC Health + Hospitals. There she provides case management and education to young women who have just given birth, assessing them for mental health and substance services and treatment, providing information about parenting, and ensuring they have the resources they need to care for their newborns.

Santana noted that before she enrolled at NYU Silver, she worked at the Montefiore School Health Program so she had some experience with pregnancy prevention and sexual health education; however, her MSW education thus far has better prepared her to engage with and empower clients. She said that her Diversity, Race, Oppression, and Privilege (DROP) class with Adjunct Lecturer Zoila Del Villar was particularly impactful. “It caused me to self-reflect and also observe the self-reflections of peers around me. It was eye-opening and at times very difficult but it prepared me to go out into the field.”

MFP Fellow Angel Gray hopes to provide clinical services to African American adolescents and emerging adults who have been impacted by intergenerational trauma and racism, as well as to address the underutilization of and stigma about therapy and mental health services among African Americans.

Gray said her interest in this work was sparked when she went Spelman College, a historically Black women’s institution. “The town I grew up in lacked diversity,” she said. “At Spelman, just being in that environment opened my eyes to the impact of race on mental health and how many African Americans don't address our mental needs. We often just take on traumas and heavy life events and try to navigate throughout life without truly taking time to address what is impacting us, why is it impacting us, and how can we combat certain stigmas that are within our community. When I would talk to my classmates at Spelman, it was like therapy. We released a lot of pain and we were surprised by how much we related to each other’s experience despite coming from so many different locations and upbringings. It was then clear to me that African Americans have a great need for mental health care and it is not being addressed. I want to be a change agent within my own community.”

Gray, who is in the Extended One-Year Residency MSW program at our Westchester County campus, balances school with a full-time job at ANDRUS, a nonprofit agency serving vulnerable children and families. As a care coordinator in the agency’s health home, she makes home visits to clients who are predominantly African American. “I am able to see the different impacts that society and structural racism have had on them, “ she said, “as well as their lack of trust in the therapuetic system despite the need that exists within their families and communities.” Gray is doing her field placement this year in one of ANDRUS’ mental health clinics, where she is providing diverse clients with both therapy and care management services.

The skills Gray is developing in her placement and her classes are preparing her to address the challenges she first identified at Spelman and has had reinforced in her work. She said the Theories of Attachment in Early Development class she took this past summer with Valerie Coleman-Palansky was particularly influential. “She taught me the importance of doing self-work, and how you can't pour from an empty cup,” said Gray. “If I don't address what is going on within me, I can’t successfully provide for other people. Not only that, she helped me see that my story relates to other people so being able to speak up and acknowledge my feelings is important on multiple levels.”

Gray, Santana, and the other MFP Master’s Fellows will participate in virtual webinars throughout the fellowship year and attend an in-person training on March 22-24, 2020 in Alexandria, VA that will strengthen their competency to work with underrepresented and underserved racial/ethnic minorities with or at risk for mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. Both Santana and Gray are excited about the opportunity the fellowship provides for them to gain specialized clinical training, receive mentorship from an experienced practitioner, and expand their professional networks.

To see a complete list of 2019-20 Master’s Minority Fellows, please visit the CSWE website.