What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?
Honestly, who knows? I was a total theater nerd from an all-girl Catholic high school, a first-generation Cuban-American trying to figure out where I fit in and a lifelong resident of the New York metro area who wanted nothing more from the time I was a kid than to live in the city. In a lot of ways, I’m still all those things and truthfully think they’re pretty darn cool. But I also look back on that girl from 2008 and I feel for her — she had so much confidence and so much intelligence and so much fire, but she was also deeply anxious and naïve, and she was dealing with multiple heartbreaks in her personal life. I think she definitely hurt herself and others as she tried to figure things out along the way, but she was also working so hard to survive and thrive ...so I guess whatever she was like I try to extend a lot of love and grace to her.
What do you remember about your first-year living situation?
I lived in a suite in Carman, and it was perfect. Our floor really hit it off and became fast friends. I’ll be forever grateful to my roommate Sierra Kuzava ’12 for inviting me into the circle she had already started forming. I was also insanely lucky to have a friend already on the same floor in Nikki Lugo SEAS’12, whom I had met at a summer program at Notre Dame the year before. We also had an RA who was the perfect balance of chill and strict: He treated us like adults with autonomy and agency, but also with responsibility over our safety and that of those around us. We maybe didn’t always deserve that respect, but for the most part we tried. I think like most freshman experiences those early relationships were fast and furious and messy, but looking back they were also really powerful. So many wild nights and deep conversations and life milestones were had on that floor.
What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?
I’m a bookworm (specifically ravenous around fiction) so I thought Lit Hum was going to be my jam, but I ended up having my most memorable experiences with Music Hum and Contemporary Civilization. Music Hum allowed me to experience live music in New York in ways I never had. Through that class I went to my first opera, my first symphony and my first actual jazz club. I loved writing about music more than I ever thought I would, and the experiences I had through that class have encouraged me to continue to seek out new musical experiences regularly.
My love for CC I owe entirely to our instructor, Michael Brent GSAS’12. At the time he was a doctoral student in philosophy, but he is one of the greatest teachers I have ever had. He was able to facilitate sometimes deeply heated discussions in a way that maintained respect in the room, and he never let anyone sit in their assumptions for too long. He encouraged constant self-reflection and a deep interrogation of every text we read. You couldn’t get away with not doing the reading because he was able, with warmth and humor, to get everyone to participate in discussions. He was also deeply compassionate and considerate about us as humans (I know because I was going through a very tough time personally that year), and he treated us as intellectual equals and didn’t let us diminish ourselves. I learned a lot about myself and about my values in that class, and I think I also learned a lot about what it means to facilitate a room with respect and care, which I bring into my own classrooms and rehearsal rooms to this day.
Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?
As an undergraduate my favorite spaces were always the rooms the Sabor Latin Dance Team rehearsed in. They were many and varied and sometimes really strange — could that big space in Wien be called a ballroom? But Sabor was my light for my four years at Columbia so all those spaces hold a lot of joy for me. Un grupo unido jamás será vencido <3.
I also loved going to my Cuban literature class in a little brownstone on 116th that always smelled like café, and I’d get really excited when I had a class in one of those classic lecture halls with the wooden chairs (“Modern Poetry” in Hamilton Hall was a particular favorite); to this day anyone whom I tour around campus gets immediately escorted to that one stone bench by St. Paul’s that creates an echo when you speak right from the center, and to the “tooth” statue on the way to East Campus to give it a spin. I try to visit campus at least once every winter just to see College Walk lit up ...Honestly, there are so many spaces that hold significance it’s hard to name them all.
What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?
I think I’d give myself more of a break, on just about everything. When you’re a woman of color at an Ivy League school in the heart of New York City, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to be brilliant and social and talented and fun and strong every moment of every day. And although so many of the people at Columbia are kind and chill and compassionate, the culture can still tend to be fast-paced and high-strung and over-achieving. I think if I could talk to the 18- to 22-year-old-me, I’d tell her she’s OK and she can take her time and she’s worthy. I’d tell her that she’s allowed to be imperfect, and to need alone time, and to not always say “Yes.” I don’t know whether she’d listen to me, but I guess I just think I could’ve been more human and soft and vulnerable than I let myself be.