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Narrator: You are listening to the Duke University Parent and Family Programs podcast.
Grace: Hello. This is Grace Sullivan from the Office of Parent and Family Programs at Duke University. We’re here today with Duke Student, Ivan Robles. Thank you for joining us today, Ivan. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ivan: Sure. So yes, my name is Ivan Robles. I am a Duke senior. I am originally from Miami, Florida, although I definitely call Durham home now. I study political science and international comparative studies. I have a couple different positions on campus. The one that I’ve held the longest is my position in Duke Student Government. I also have a work study job; I’ve been kind of in and out of different Duke centers in terms of employment or just of programming work. But yeah, Duke student, Miami born and raised. Those are sort of my big identities.
Grace: Wonderful, thank you. I’d love to dive into our topic for today which is community. So, how do you define community?
Ivan: I think a fundamental aspect of community would be relationships. And these, I would say, are relationships that can be formed through a variety of different ways. But, fundamentally, they are ones that you have between you and your co-workers, between you and your peers, between some individuals maybe in your local community—whether those be your neighbors or people who work at maybe a non-profit that you volunteer at. So I think multiple communities can exist in one area. I don’t think there are any sort of strict boundaries to it. And I think that’s kind of what makes the word community such a powerful word, such a, sort of, potent type of meaning because it can kind of exist in many places at the same time and mean many different things.
In terms of my communities, that I am connected to and that I find to be sort of integral to who I am—absolutely is my community back home in Miami. I don’t think I realized how much I valued that community until I had left it for really the first time when I came to Duke, and I realized that my sort of upbringing in such a unique place was really fundamental to the way I viewed myself and the world and how I interacted with people. And it really took me being in a new space and kind of connecting myself to a different kind of community to really have that moment and look back and just see how much it had impacted who I was. I made a pretty active effort to find other students from Miami, as soon as I arrived on campus and kind of had that sort of lifeline if I ever needed to vent or just kind of reminisce about our experiences back home or just kind of talking about how much we miss the food and the music and all the culture back there. That is not to say though that I haven’t been able to find new community on campus. And it’s something that I’ve been both intentional about in terms of the kind of people I surround myself with, but I think also passively just kind of existing on campus and the different activities you do you kind of fall into these groups. And from there you establish friendships, you maybe find certain mentors, you build certain relationships with your professors, all those different pieces kind of link a community together. And I think it’s different for every person on campus.
Grace: So it seems like when you think about community, you’re also thinking about the intersectionality. Like you just mentioned, many different—or alluded to—many different types of community all being important to you. What do you think is that role of the intersectionality of community?
Ivan: I think it is just natural to exist in many different communities because we as people hold many different identities. There is a quote that is “there’s no such thing as a single issue” because we are sort of not single-issue people. And I think that has definitely been something that has sort of colored the way that I’ve maneuvered campus because I arrived at Duke kind of already having an idea of the things I cared about, the sort of layers of myself that were sort of important to how I identified, how I introduced myself to people. That kind of gave me a platform that propelled me to almost different sort of things. I‘ve been—I was sort of really intentional about finding different groups that maybe were related to the different identities that I held. And I think a big one would be sort of as a gay man on campus and having been already out of the closet when I first came to campus—prior to coming here. So I immediately started working at the LGBTQ center that we have on campus, called the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. I worked there as a student employee for my first two years at Duke, and it was absolutely crucial to how I sort of existed at Duke. Sort of the rush of your first year is something that’s difficult to deal with if you aren’t able to really find the community and the spaces and the people that can ground you. And the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity was absolutely the group and the space for me to do that. And it really shaped how I kind of grew when I first came to college. And I think I made the transition from that space to other spaces at sort of the perfect time: I worked there for my first two years, like I’d said, and then I felt sort of stable, and I knew that I could begin exploring other parts of campus. And so, I’ve had different jobs. I’ve kind of been able to float around, and each have been sort of important to the different connections I’ve been able to make, the different kind of work I do on campus, and part of that work is kind of building new networks and building new spaces to get these starting points for maybe new communities to form, or maybe make existing communities more cohesive.
Grace: So you talked about, I guess, ways in which you fell into community or found community immediately when you got here and that allowed you, it sounds like, to kind of springboard into helping facilitate or create more community for other students and community members here at Duke. Can you talk more about that? Like what are some of your leadership roles where you feel like you’ve been able to bring people together around this sense of community?
Ivan: Absolutely. When I first started working at the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, my first two years I was what they call a Student Programming Assistant. That is the role that all student workers hold in the Center. And essentially, we’re responsible for creating those spaces. We are responsible for creating programming that entices students to come to the Center or maybe other spots on campus, and it could be something that is related to speaking about our identity or the difficulties of coming out. We also did a lot of social programming as well, so at the end of the week on Fridays we did something that we called Kickback Friday. And that was entirely meant to be a social space to unwind at the end of the week because Duke is rigorous—we come here for rigorous academics—and it was just nice to kind of have an environment where you could entirely be yourself, no questions asked, and just being able to sit there, eat some food, play some games, listen to some music, and just kind of exist. That was sort of a really important part of our job. And that was something that I played a big role in when I worked there, in addition to maybe some more specific groups that I would help facilitate: things that we called discussion groups. At the Center, we tried to make sure that we provided space for as many different identity groups as possible. Two that I helped run was a first-year group that would meet on East Campus. This was a space for students who were maybe thinking about their identity in a different way, or who maybe were already out when they came to campus and they were looking for friendships or just being able to connect with other students that maybe identified similarly. And, the other discussion group that I would help facilitate was what we called Man to Man—I believe it has a different name now—but essentially that was for people who identified as LGBT and male. And so we would meet and just talk about maybe our struggles for the week or things in politics. Again, just kind of creating an environment where you can ask these questions that maybe are related to topics that you don’t really probe in your academic life or even among your friend groups. So it was a particular space for conversations that you maybe didn’t have the opportunity to have, and that was really important for both myself. I think that was one of the groups that I was really able to find other gay men on campus—other queer men in general—and establish those friendships, kind of have people I could rely on whenever I was struggling.
Grace: So, when we’ve talked about community today, it seems like we’ve been talking about it in the context of shared identity or interest. To what extent do you think that that is critical to building community versus maybe just helpful or supportive in creating community?
Ivan: Yeah, I would say it definitely is a critical factor. I think to have a community form there is some sort of insertion point for people. So although I spoke about communities not having any finite boundaries, I think that there is maybe sort of different themes or topics or subjects that kind of give it some shape. In terms of maybe political issues or identities, or just simply interest like you had said, those are kind of where people insert themselves. And I think that it is a crucial aspect, and I would say you could likely point to any community on campus and find some sort of common ground between the different members that honestly self-identify and are sort of self-enlisted into this group. But I think—I’ve been thinking about that a lot because with my current job—I do programming again, at the Office of Student Leadership—and what I’ve sort of been responsible for as of this past yea, is creating our office and the University’s first Latinx in Leadership series. That is obviously very clearly tied to a certain identity. It was something that was created from my conversations with other Latino students, even other Latino faculty and mentors that I’ve had. There was this sort of common yearning to have a space where we could just sit down, talk about the things that were affecting our lives, maybe talk about things in politics that were making us feel unsafe or threatened in some way, or maybe reassured—good things too. Really what I wanted to do was create a program where students who were either Latinx-identifying or not, could meet and interact with adults who were Latinx and who were sort of trailblazers in their community, whether that be at Duke or in Durham or just sort of the Triangle area more generally. And have a face and have a story that can show them that there are certain aspirations that you can have, and people take that path in different ways. And particularly this is important for students who maybe have some sort of marginalized identity. So this program was really an opportunity to be that point of connection for both adults, faculty, and students. There have been some really great conversations in this space about how to take care of yourself as you approach this, what to look out for, how to stand your ground if you feel like someone is not valuing you. And that’s exactly what I wanted to help facilitate, and it’s something that we’re going to continue doing within our office, which I’m very proud to say because I think that something that’s been important to me is crafting some sort of legacy at Duke. And not necessarily for my own sense of reputation, but for—being able to say that the spaces and communities that I’ve been a part of can exist beyond me, and I think that’s important because I don’t think a community should be grounded by a single individual. I think that is sort of fundamentally not what community is about. It’s about the interpersonal relationships. So when I leave, being able to see these communities continue to grow is going to be absolutely the greatest gift of graduation that I could ask for.
Grace: So we love to wrap up our podcast by asking advice. So if you were talking to—particularly a first-year student, and let’s say a first-year student that hasn’t figured out what they want to do in their four years, who they want to be—what advice would you give them for finding community on campus?
Ivan: Right. I mean, I was that first-year student. I did not know what I wanted to get involved in when I first arrived, but I was so wide-eyed. I would say to an incoming student or a first-year student, give yourself that room to explore and really think outside the box, but also be honest with yourself and be quick to maybe narrow down your options in terms of the activities that you do. Because I think there is this sort of inclination when you get to campus to do everything and try to balance everything and try to maintain full performance in everything you do. But as human beings, it’s simply not possible. So I would say a crucial lesson I learned is really sit down, and take a long look at exactly what you want to do, which people are in each group, and kind of strike that balance. And it’s something that is a lot easier said than done.
I would also really recommend for students who are incoming to campus really just kind of taking a look at the different communities that are sort of promoted beforehand, and there are a ton. I think Duke does a really great job about being intentional about looping students into a Duke community, a Duke family, even before they arrive as fully admitted students their first year. Big one, I would say, is the invitational programs. But they are primarily identity focused. Those are especially important—is providing that space, providing those connections to introduce yourself to campus life with people that you know you’ll be comfortable with and that you can sort of express yourself in a very secure space. And so we have one for Latinx students, we have one for Indigenous Native American students, we have one for African-American students, we have a new one for LGBTQ students called the Pride Invitational. And I think these are all sort of very fundamental to are students who are worried about maybe not finding community on campus. It’s a really great point of insertion for them.
Grace: Thank you so much, Ivan. We really appreciate you being here today.
Ivan: Thank you.
Grace: You have been listening to Grace Sullivan with Parent and Family Programs at duke university. This concludes our interview with Duke student, Ivan Robles. Tune in next month for another episode of our podcasting series.