November 12, 2009

“Summer, I need the giant banana. I need it.”

So who goes to the LGBT Center anyway? Have you ever been there? Do you want to go, but are scared? It’s ok, I was scared too. My first few times were terrifying. I clung to Chris Purcell, the Program Coordinator, because I didn’t know anyone else. Now I go there all the time.

Sure, sometimes it’s empty and eerily quiet in the morning hours, but as the day passes several people stop in to check their e-mail, try to do homework, eat, and hang out. In all honesty, it’s my haven and there’s no other place I prefer on campus. I keep to myself quite a bit, but the Center is a safe space where I don’t have to worry about anything but being a twenty-year-old Duke student who’s procrastinating just like everyone else.

My Thursday blog entries are developed from interviews I am in the process of conducting and friendships I continue to form through interactions in and out of the center. I want to put a face to our strongest allies. I want to put a story to those LGBTQ-identified students/faculty/staff who remain passionate in their dedication to whatever gets them up in the morning. I will present these tenacious individuals, who do their part in making Duke’s campus a more accepting place, not just a tolerant one, first through their devotion to LGBTQA issues. The following week, I will highlight the other components of their lives that make them who they are and the paths they’ve followed to get here, to show the multidimensionality of our community members.

Welcome to part one of my first victim profile.

There are few people at Duke who make me feel genuine happiness like she does. Perhaps it is her unyielding devotion to Peg, the LGBT Center’s Staff Specialist, or perhaps it is her pet cacti and unmatched sense of humor. She is someone I admire and someone who I look for to change a bad day around. Today and next Thursday’s blog entries will be devoted to her.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Viviana Santiago. Come back next week to learn more about the giant banana.

Aside from her amazing collection of Facebook profile pictures, you should know Viviana because she is the president of Blue Devils United, and quite easily one of the most hilarious people I know. Her leadership this year has brought our undergraduate student group closer together and amused in meetings with her quirky attitude. It is sitting in these meetings, as Viviana tries to use noisemakers to call order and attention, that I feel most connected with our community. She is also part of the Center student staff, and part of her duties place her in charge of planning for the Women Loving Women group.

And this is what Viviana has to say about the Center: “I like the people that come in and work there, they’re funny and have a different perspective that you can’t find anywhere else on campus.” But she also notes some changes she’d like to see, “I wish more people came, and a more diverse group of students on campus would come. I know there are some students who would never come. I wish the president would come visit.” She especially hopes that there would be more Duke women who felt more comfortable being visible and in joining the community.

Coming Out Day is her favorite LGBT event on campus because it reminds people that the community is not invisible and it truly gives allies a chance to show their support. Many who we never see at the Center come out to support our cause.

Now, I have a few more personal comments to make about Viviana, so excuse the sentimentality if that isn’t your cup of tea. I first met Viviana in a House Course she co-taught called Latinos in Durham in the spring of my freshman year. She was incredibly quiet. I’d say we’ve only been friends a short while, but her presence in my life in and out of the Center has already produced a ton of amazing memories. I’d like to share more of my stories about this amazing woman, so please come back next week for the continuation of this article to learn more about her giant banana adventure, her Latina identity, and more.

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