When Mónnica Gay entered Miami University her first year, her goal was simple: be best friends with everyone.
“That’s my entire thing, just try to be best friends with everyone on campus,” Gay said.
Gay, a sophomore social work and urban and regional planning double major with a minor in social justice, is involved with several different organizations on campus and said her schedule tends to scare people when they see it.
“I'll pull up my Google Calendar, and I'll just get jaws dropped,” Gay said. “It’s really not that bad.”
Gay is currently an intern for the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI); the president of the Latiné Student Alliance, Miami’s Latinx and Hispanic student organization; the vice president of Recruitment for Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc. and the community liaison for FUSE, a student organization that aims to build community around queer and trans/non-binary students of color.
Before coming to Miami, Gay grew up in Virginia and Ohio. She was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moved to the United States when she was 2 years old. The middle child of two sisters, Gay followed in her older sister’s footsteps and was the president of UNIDOS and Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc.
“My sister and I are really close,” Gay said, “so I would always see her, especially over summer breaks. She would be doing club stuff, and she was like, ‘When you come to campus, you need to come to meetings.’”
Gay said her level of involvement can be tiresome, as most of her work involves putting her identity at the forefront.
“I eat, sleep and breathe diversity work,” Gay said. “And it's really, really exhausting because I'm putting my identity online all the time. Because I am a Queer, Latina woman, that's difficult [at] a primarily white institution.”
Gay said she’s used to attending predominantly white institutions but was newly challenged with finding a place for her culture without her family around at college.
“My culture has not been one that I've really built. It's one that's been passed down,” Gay said. “So me as Latina, it was like learning recipes from my mom, dancing Bachata in the kitchen with my grandma and trying really, really hard to hold on to Spanish with my older sister because the only times we spoke Spanish were in the house … So now coming into college it's trying to figure out, once again, what that Hispanic identity looks like to me because my culture came [from] completely inside the home.”
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Building a Latinx community at Miami has been the focus of Gay’s work over the last two years and was one of the main reasons she applied to be an intern with the CSDI.
“[Miami’s] Latinx community doesn't have [a] face yet, which is something that we're working on,” Gay said. “It doesn't have that base [or] that connection yet that we really want it to. It's as soon as you find a person that is even a little bit similar, like holding on and not letting go.”
Mallory Stiles, a sophomore theatre and marketing double major, has been roommates with Gay both years they’ve been at Miami.
Stiles said their relationship as roommates has been both supportive and beneficial.
“As a white woman, and coming from a white, fairly affluent family, I'm coming from such a place of privilege, [and] I have learned about so many different things on this campus that I never would have learned if she wasn't involved in them,” Stiles said.
Stiles said an important part of their relationship is their nightly debrief with each other because that’s one of the only times the two of them are both home.
“That centering aspect of our relationship, really, is when we both get to come home and talk to each other, and that's a pillar of my routine is coming home and telling her everything,” Stiles said. “Then [I’ll] be like, what happened in your day, and get to know what they talked about in her social work class, or like, what one of her professors said about trains or something like that.”
After their first year living together, Stiles said Gay wanted to apply for the Scholar Leaders program, which would require her to live in a specific residence hall.
Stiles wanted to live with Gay again, so she applied too.
“I followed her and I was like, you know what, Mónnica is the type of person that you will write five essays for and sit through an hour interview just so that you can room with her again. And that is what I did,” Stiles said.
Gay said her focus going forward is self-reflection.
“I’ve been doing a lot of that these past few weeks,” Gay said. “Especially going into my junior year thinking about what my plans for next year are, or being like, ‘Have I been doing the work I set out to do initially?’”
However, Gay is also finding time to relax and take care of herself.
“Yes, there are so many issues surrounding us, both on the grand scale and on the campus level, and on the microscale,” Gay said. “But there are some times that I'm allowed to just sit at home, watch my little show and not worry about anything and it's completely fine.”