People and Community University

New director of LGBTQ Student Center joins UM

Gisela Vega, the former associate director of LGBTQA Initiatives at Florida International University, joins the Hurricanes family with plans to enhance programming.
Gisela Vega

Gisela Vega feels right at home in her new office, located on the second floor of the Whitten University Center. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

For more than 25 years, Gisela Vega has been a leader and advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. She now brings her extensive personal and professional experience, along with a continued pursuit of equality, to the University of Miami as the new director of the LGBTQ Student Center.

Vega, by way of Chicago, Illinois, received her start in housing and residential life as the resident director at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she encountered many different students from diverse backgrounds. As she gained professional experience and honed her skills and passion, Vega eventually joined Florida International University and in 2012 was named associate director of LGBTQA Student Initiatives within Multicultural Programs and Services and was on the faculty for the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. Vega was instrumental in developing educational and social programs at FIU, and after 22 years of service at the public institution, she is excited to bring her management approach to UM.

“This was a community that I had worked with for many years for both personal and professional reasons,” said Vega, who earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in instructional leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a doctorate in higher education from FIU. “When I was in college, we didn’t really have LGBT or gender and sexuality centers, which made it even more difficult. So, I can relate to the experience of a student who feels marginalized or alone on a college campus.”

Officially one week into her role at UM, Vega feels right at home in her new office, located on the second floor of the Whitten University Center of the Coral Gables campus. She has plans to continue to grow and enhance existing programs as well as implement year-round service components and student leadership development into the LGBTQ Student Center programming.

“I’d like to see us develop more LGBTQ leaders here at the University who can go into the community one day,” Vega said.

The LGBTQ Student Center currently offers a variety of programs and services to students, faculty, and staff that aim to build community and offer opportunities for empowerment, visibility, inclusion, intergroup engagement, and education. IBIS (I Believe In Solidarity) Ally Network’s training program is one of the many initiatives that attracted Vega to the UM LGBTQ community. She said there are people who want to help and want to be support systems for this community, but sometimes may not know how. So, she sees it as her responsibility to help those who want to learn.

In addition, Vega said she understands the importance of having a resource center on campus that provides a space where students can go for advice or simply to be heard.

“Part of the reason I do this work is because I’m passionate about our students in terms of them not feeling alone,” said Vega. “I think one of the things that’s unique about this population is that many of our students have many intersecting identities.  In my personal experience, I knew how important it was for me to find the right networks, the right organizations and groups and spaces and people to be involved with.”

Vega feels the UM community is extremely progressive and is working hard to ensure support for all marginalized groups across campus. She is proud to now work for a university that provides inclusive restrooms and that offers an option for students wishing to designate their preferred name or gender on their records.

Most of all, Vega looks forward to collaborating with students, faculty, staff, and the greater University community.

“My vision,” said Vega, “is to create one of the preeminent centers in the nation, one that is looked to for best practices where students, faculty, staff, and community feel that they are always welcomed. This office and these doors are open to anyone who is interested in learning about social justice issues and be educated around issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Join UM’s Division of Student Affairs, LGBTQ Student Center, and Student Life in welcoming Vega during a meet-and-greet on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in the Iron Arrow Room of the Shalala Student Center.