Social Welfare Student Megan Mercier Named Finalist for Prestigious Award

Vast Experiences Inform Her Domestic Violence Advocacy

Headshot of Megan Mercier
Megan Mercier

Social welfare junior Megan Mercier was recently named as a finalist for one of the most prestigious undergraduates awards in the nation – the Truman Scholarship. The Truman Scholarship recognizes outstanding leadership potential, a commitment to a career in government or the nonprofit sector, and academic excellence. Mercier was one of three UW-Madison students named as a finalist.

Megan returned to UW–Madison in 2020 after founding the Holism for All program aimed at connecting low-income families with affordable holistic healthcare options. She is an advocate for victims of domestic violence, a public speaker, author, filmmaker and mother to two daughters.

Why were you interested in pursuing the social welfare program?
I have been working with social workers in various capacities for years through my domestic violence advocacy. I wanted to have the official training to work at the same levels as the social workers I have come to know.

Can you talk about your experiences and work that led you to the social welfare program?
I started at UW-Madison in 2004, intending to study medicine, but I couldn’t continue due to an inability to access financial aid. I spent the past nine years as a low-income single mom, writer, and domestic violence advocate. For many years I operated under the assumption that I had missed my chance to become a doctor, but in the spring of 2020 I realized that I could still reenroll – with my children now old enough that they don’t need me as often. Since then I’ve been taking overtime credits and working to finally realize my goal of studying medicine.

I have had two novels published under the name Windy Phillips, and I wrote an as yet unpublished book on the dynamics of, and responses to, domestic violence. I started public speaking at conferences in Wisconsin, at area churches, and at the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and UW-Madison Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work on topics around violence against women and how best to identify and assist patients experiencing abuse. I also speak on the intersection between postpartum mental health issues and potentially co-occurring abuse.

I have also been working with the Dane County Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coordinated Community Response team since 2018. We are currently in the process of working to undo some of the ingrained patterns of white feminism in domestic violence advocacy in Wisconsin, hoping to do a better job of meeting the needs of those who are the most marginalized, who should really be the ones guiding our community responses and initiatives.

What is the focus of your work in wellness?
I am very interested in how trauma impacts people’s health. I established the Holism for All program because I recognized the fact that many holistic healthcare options are not available to low-income people. Occasionally, practitioners of certain therapies might be covered by Badgercare, but some modalities like doulas and massage therapy usually aren’t covered at all. I really believe that health is holistic, and that the people who have the greatest need for holistic therapies are often likely to have the least access, because poverty and trauma are often co-occurring.

While people may have different preferences in terms of the forms of healthcare, to me, it is an injustice that wealthy people are able to access certain types of treatment that are often unavailable to low-income families. So my intention was to address this disparity, focusing on low-income families and on people who have worked with DAIS (Domestic Abuse Intervention Services), and are attempting to put their lives back together after domestic violence.

What is the scope of your public speaking, writing, and filmmaking?
I really love fiction, and the books and films I work on are often in horror or fantasy genres. I started writing a fantasy series on my twenty-first birthday, and finished it right before my thirty-first birthday. I never thought I would do non-fiction writing, but the more I have learned over the years about relationship dynamics that people tend not to notice, or other topics such as spirituality, purity culture, or justice issues, the more I have been driven to write and research further.

I wrote my first screenplay in 2018, and in 2019 I helped pull together a crew of 100% women to make my first film. I learned how to direct and edit, and my first film got accepted into some local and international film festivals. I’m currently working on a feature film I’m planning to direct in 2022, and I have more screenplays in the works for afterward.

How does social work fit into your plans? What’s next for you?
I’m never quite content to do just one thing, and I very much look forward to getting my BSW, perhaps even my MSW, as well as becoming a medical doctor. I would love to be able to practice medicine and to also continue working as a domestic violence advocate, doing public speaking and pushing for policy changes and assisting however I’m able. I also hope to do research down the line on the impacts of emotional violence. If I could leave one impact on the world, I would love to have helped people understand that emotional harm is just as damaging as physical harm, and that emotional wellbeing is every bit as crucial as physical wellbeing.

The area I’m the most focused on changing right now is the Dane County family court system. As End Domestic Abuse WI reported, survivors often state that the Wisconsin family law system frequently fails to adequately address the safety concerns of domestic abuse victims and their children (Coalition Chronicles ,Vol 37 No 1). Spousal abuse isn’t even considered to be a factor when determining custody and placement of children, and the court usually doesn’t order any protective measures. There also aren’t really any avenues of accountability for our judges and the rulings they make, so there are some major shifts we need to see in the Madison area to improve the safety of victims and survivors.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
My daughters are ten and twelve now, and they are very excited to see me succeeding in school. They are already invested in working toward justice, and are busy writing their own stories, planning films they want to make, and thinking about futures in healthcare or environmental conservation. My life’s path seems really backward in some ways, but it’s so much fun being able to do all of this with my daughters alongside me.

Megan plans to apply for the BSW program and graduate in 2023.