“Giving only one piece of advice or a one-liner is so hard because I wish I had known so many things going into Rutgers. The first thing that pops into my mind is to find your people and find your space. Rutgers is massive, overwhelming, and confusing. When I started my transition, I was so overwhelmed and scared because I had difficulty fathoming how I, as a trans woman, would fit into the larger Rutgers world/culture. The idea of navigating Rutgers as a trans woman was debilitating and really delayed my transition. What helped me get through was having chosen family and knowing spaces where I can go when I was feeling overwhelmed. Whether that space is SJE or not, finding that space and those folks who hear you, see you, and will be there for you. For me that was my friends and family at SJE. I knew I could go there at any time and know that I can just rest and feel all the things I did when I was not there.” – Vanessa Gonzalez-Siegel, ’16

My name is Vanessa Gonzalez-Siegel (she/her/hers), and I graduated from the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences and Douglass Residential College in 2016. While at Rutgers, I majored in Women’s and Gender Studies. There are so many positive stories from my time at Rutgers and they all have to do with my memories of The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities (SJE). Every interaction I had with the students and staff of SJE re-energized me, gave me strength, wisdom, and purpose that allowed me to get through Rutgers and be proud of what I accomplished during my tenure.

What was challenging during my time at Rutgers was navigating the not-SJE’s of Rutgers. What I mean by that is I was so comfortable at SJE and knew that it was safe that at times I “forgot” that not everywhere and everyone is SJE. Navigating other cultural centers was challenging, engaging with other student leaders and my peers was difficult, and with the larger bureaucracy of the institution was exhausting. Zaneta Rago-Craft, the director of SJE, and others really helped me to understand how to navigate those other spaces. Additionally, working as an office manager at SJE gave me the tools so that I could figure out how to navigate those spaces and people in a way that was still authentic and real to me.

After May 2016, I pursued my Masters in Higher & Postsecondary Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. I completed my graduate program in May 2017 and I am currently the Assistant Director of Diversity and Campus Engagement at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, NY.