University of Southern California

USC Student Affairs and Campus Life

Vincent Vigil

Gets Personal in New NASPA Book

By Cristy Lytal

Vincent VigilPhoto by Nathan CarterVincent Vigil

Vincent E. Vigil was still a USC graduate student when he helped found the university’s LGBT Resource Center in 2005 and became its first director. He reflected on how his early life prepared him for this role in the essay “How Family, Community, and Upbringing Influenced My Leadership Style,” recently published in the NASPA book Identity and Leadership: Informing Our Lives, Informing Our Practice. NASPA, the national professional association for Student Affairs, will feature the book at its national conference in Orlando this March.

“I wanted to share a little bit about myself and how my upbringing affected who I am today,” said Vigil, who submitted the essay at the request of the book’s co-editor Ronni Sanlo. “Some students and friends who read it said that they were surprised that I was so candid with my life. It was hard to be personal, but it was something that was also therapeutic.”

An only child in a family of modest means, Vigil grew up in Pico Rivera, a city in southeastern Los Angeles County. In his essay, he wrote that growing up with limited financial resources fostered his strong work ethic and focus on success: “In my family, when someone complains about his or her job, a typical response is ‘Be grateful you have a job!’ … I remain grateful for every work position.”

This includes some of his earliest and most menial jobs: dusting his grandmother’s furniture for quarters as a young boy and cleaning an elementary school through a city-sponsored summer youth program when he was 15.

When Vigil was a teenager, his parents divorced. He had to become increasingly independent and self-sufficient — traits he carries with him to this day. As he explained in his essay, “My teenage years are when I took complete control of my entire life because my mother was distant; she was either busy working or voluntarily absent. I handled household chores like laundry, cleaning, preparing meals, and the dreadful lawn work. Days would pass without parental guidance, and I was often left on my own.”

Near the end of high school, he moved into his maternal grandmother’s dining room, since she didn’t have a spare bedroom. He relied on his grandparents, aunts and uncles for school clothes and other necessities. In his essay, he explained that this “created an intense focus on work and education to get into college but, more important, to avoid problems at home.”

This intense focus has taken Vigil far. The first person in his family to attend college, he pursued a business administration degree with an emphasis on advertising and marketing at Whittier College. He immersed himself in undergraduate life, serving as a resident assistant, program board chair, student government secretary and homecoming king. He worked in campus activities, at the multicultural center and in the Dean of Students’ office. He also founded Whittier’s LGBT student organization.

After interning at an advertising firm, he realized that the industry wasn’t the right fit for him. Tracy Tambascia, who was the director of Whittier’s Multicultural Center and now teaches at the USC Rossier School of Education, encouraged him to consider a career in Student Affairs.

Newly inspired, Vigil enrolled in USC Rossier’s master’s program in postsecondary administration and student affairs, where he focused his research on LGBT students. He also did LGBT outreach and worked with LGBT students through positions in Program Board and the Center for Women and Men (CWM).

He soon recognized the need for more structured support and mentorship for USC’s LGBT community. Elizabeth Davenport, then-director of the CWM, urged him to move forward with a proposal for an LGBT Resource Center, which opened in August 2005. He also received support and guidance from former Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Ken Taylor and other senior leaders in the division, including Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson. They agreed to reallocate division funds over several years to create the budget to sustain the program.

While serving as director of the new LGBT Resource Center, Vigil earned his doctoral degree in education from USC Rossier in 2007. He now teaches USC Rossier courses on topics ranging from the politics of difference to diversity to assessment.

Under Vigil’s leadership, the nationally acclaimed LGBT Resource Center continually expands its programs to better serve students. Starting this academic year, the Rainbow Floor — a special interest community in Century Apartments for LGBT students and their allies — began offering gender inclusive apartments to create a more comfortable environment for gender variant students. Vigil is also expanding Greek Chat, a confidential discussion group about the fraternity and sorority system as it relates to LGBT life.

“Vincent has excellent leadership skills and a talent for turning his visions into reality,” said Denzil J. Suite, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “He understands the needs of students and takes a developmental approach to helping students reach their goals.”