This past week, the University of Miami welcomed its new director of the LGBTQ+ Center, Gisela Vega. She’s joining the UM family after being a leader in the South Florida LGBTQ community for over 25 years.
Before coming to Miami, Vega spent her time working as the resident director at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Most recently, she worked as the associate director of LGBTQ+ Student Initiatives and as a faculty member at the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at Florida International University.
As a Puerto Rican and Panamanian, Vega has a unique connection with the problems facing the diverse UM community. Accompanying her experiences as a Latina, the personal insights she has as a member of the lesbian community made her a highly competitive candidate for the position.
Emma Lam, current president of SpectrUM, the largest student-run undergraduate LGBTQ+ organization here at the University of Miami, participated in the selection process.
“We were looking for candidates with experience in higher education and working with the LGBTQ+ community that demonstrated strong programming and management skills,” said Lam, a junior majoring in psychology. “What I like most about Vega is her commitment to engaging students with surrounding communities and opportunities.”
As the new director, Vega will assume responsibility for all LGBTQ+ affairs at the university, including providing guidance to the on-campus LGBTQ+ student organizations, making sure LGBTQ+ students are provided with all the resources they need for success and educating the campus and community to help improve the campus environment.
With a four-star LGBTQ+ rating for campus inclusivity, on-campus amenities and resources such as gender-inclusive housing and bathrooms, counseling and programs like I Believe In Solidarity have made the university a leader in LGBTQ student affairs in the southern United States. Much of this is due to the initiatives of the LGBTQ+ Center, located on the second floor of the Whitten University Center. The leadership of the director is crucial in maintaining the University of Miami’s values and managing all programs centered around the LGBTQ+ community.
“The director is at the forefront of advocating for our LGBTQ+ Canes,” said Lam. “This is essential for maintaining the university’s commitment towards diversity, inclusion, and acceptance.”
In an interview, Vega discussed her path to UM, her passion for helping students and the impact that she had on her current occupation.
“I thought I was going to be an art teacher. I love art, and I love students. However, I realized that it was tough teaching art to high schoolers.”
She goes on to describe that her passion for helping kids and knack for creativity led her to try her hand at graphic design. She “loved the experience of creating through graphic design” but realized she wanted to “be with students in some capacity.”
This prompted Vega’s work with college students. Whether it be as a graduate assistant or defender of social justice, she has worked to develop the youth of wherever she went.
Vega said her “favorite thing is when students come back years later and say thank you.” She also said she is “truly blessed to have touched the lives of so many students.”
“One of the things the university has really started to look at and think about is the direction of UM and the inclusivity seen on campus,” said Vega. “Regardless of your ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation, this should be a place where you truly belong,”