Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: meet Misel Ramirez Vasoli a counselor who brings Mexican heritage to her passion for helping others

Any IU South Bend student who lives on campus might think crossing that big red bridge – especially during blustery fall and winter weather – is a chore. For Misel Ramirez Vasoli, a practitioner in our Student Counseling Center, it probably seems like a walk in the park: when she went to college, she crossed a bridge that connected two countries.

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By: Mira Costello


Any IU South Bend student who lives on campus might think crossing that big red bridge – especially during blustery fall and winter weather – is a chore. For Misel Ramirez Vasoli, a practitioner in our Student Counseling Center, it probably seems like a walk in the park: when she went to college, she crossed a bridge that connected two countries.

As a student at the University of Texas at El Paso and a resident of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, she made the journey across the border every day for the first two years of her education. Misel only started learning English at the age of 18, which meant she had to work overtime to keep up with many of her classmates. 

After border security tightened following Sept. 11, 2001, though, Misel couldn’t keep making the trip that had turned into a three-hour ordeal – so she decided to move to El Paso, which brought her one step closer to IU South Bend. 

After graduating, Misel moved to Madison, Wis. to pursue a career in pharmaceutical research – a path that, to many, might seem completely unrelated to her current work as a counselor. As she worked in that field, though, she started to notice her passion for listening to people’s stories.

“I really enjoyed our daily interactions, one-to-one. I could see people get better,” she said. “That’s when I started noticing the linkages between mental health and medical problems. I loved working in pharmaceuticals and seeing how people heal, but healing takes many other faces.”

After many years in pharmaceuticals, Misel decided to shift her focus to mental health and psychology, and she took a position at the IU School of Medicine researching how discrimination and racism influence mental health in Latino youth. During this time, Misel noticed the high need for bi-cultural and bilingual mental health providers in the Latino community, which tends to struggle with significant mental health stigma. 

“We thrive a lot on resilience, but that resilience comes with a really high cost. We’re told very early on to just power and push through. As we experience challenges, it’s not recognized. There’s a lot of depression and anxiety in our community, but we’re led to believe that those things just don’t exist, and that all you need to do is work harder,” Misel reflected.I am guilty of that myself – I equate my value a lot with my amount of work. In times when I wasn’t feeling well, my mode is, ‘I need to do more, because I shouldn’t be feeling this.’ It’s hard to change the narrative or reframe. It’s hard to learn that rest and self care are important, and that’s also kind of like a job,” Misel said.

Apart from this positive journey of self-discovery, Misel also experienced a different awareness of her identity when she moved to the Midwest. In Mexico and El Paso, she explained, she was often the majority, surrounded by people with the same language and norms as her – in Madison and Indiana, though, she noticed many differences in the local culture as she adapted to being a minority.

“It wasn’t until I moved to the Midwest that I started to get in touch with my ethnicity,” she said. “Growing up in Mexico and studying in the southwest part of the [United States], 90 percent of the population is Hispanic – same heritage, same culture. Move to the middle of Wisconsin, and you’re confronted with who you are, how you do certain things, how you talk to people, how you touch them. I felt that I always had to work a little harder to prove that I was an equal. Academically, I had to compensate for the huge gap literature-wise. Culturally, if I want to follow conversations, I’ve gotta know things!”

Still, this adjustment did not keep Misel from carrying her heritage and culture with pride.

“I could’ve felt bad about it, but I think I went into it embracing who I am,” she said. “Maybe apologizing at first, but I’m not sorry anymore. This is who I am.”

After more research through IU and Notre Dame, and an internship at the IU South Bend Student Counseling Center, she was inspired to pursue her Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. Although she didn’t expect it to be her niche, Misel said she has been surprised by how much she enjoys working with college students. 

“I think I have this beautiful privilege of getting to know someone that I would never purposefully have chosen to meet,” she said. “There’s something beautiful about being this age, when you’re a college student. It’s a very formative time of one’s life, in which you’re trying to figure out things and become your own individual. I feel that the more support they can get at this point – instead of trying to figure it all out themselves – is a very neat opportunity.”

Particularly, she hopes that her work can bring cultural competency to counseling for Hispanic and Latino students at IU South Bend.

“The focus that I have here is to make [counseling] as accessible as we can to our Latino students,” she said. “I can tell them all day long to come and get services, but there’s still that stigma. I want to reduce that through outreach, and be understanding and empathetic about how we handle mental health and make sure that this is a safe environment to do that. The more we talk about it, that sense of feeling so isolated is not so bad. The stigma starts coming down.”

Outside of her work helping students at IU South Bend, Misel loves to travel with her husband, her friends and her three children aged 12, 10 and 8. In fact, she has been to every U.S. state except Alaska. And she doesn’t just pass through – in order to check a state off her list, she must spend at least 48 hours there, visit a local attraction and see a nature site. Misel said she also enjoys solo travel in her adult life, especially after growing up in Mexico, where femicide is prevalent. 

She also loves going out with her friends for food and drinks. 

“Maybe it’s cliche, but I learned a lot about beer and cheese in Wisconsin!” she said. 

In the future, Misel hopes to grow in all spheres of life. In the Student Counseling Center, she looks forward to growing a more diverse body of supporting staff to improve the cultural competency of services available to students. As a first-generation college student raised by parents who only had access to limited education, she said she will encourage her children to pursue their passions through education.

“This path has taken me to do what I really want and love as a passion,” Misel said. “After this long, winding road, I’m really happy with where I am right now.”

Do not hesitate to visit Misel at the Student Counseling Center in the Administration Building if you need a listening ear to support you through a tough time – or simply a warm smile to brighten your day. 

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