Daniella Pajonas ’19 is the co-founder and current co-president of the Queer Society, a queerleader for the LGBTQA and Social Justice Center, and an RA on the NYC Campus. With all that experience, she has plenty of advice for her fellow Setters!
Daniella Pajonas ’19 is a women’s and gender studies major pursuing a minor in queer studies, and she’s known for being a passionate advocate for students on the NYC Campus. Pajonas holds many positions that directly engage with her peers; from resident assistant (RA), to queerleader at the LGBTQA and Social Justice Center, to co-founder and co-president of the Queer Society, Pajonas is always on hand to provide advice and support.
We got the chance to sit down with her to discuss how she got started as an advocate for the LGBTQA+ community at Pace, and in particular, about how RA has shaped her both personally and professionally. Stay tuned for her advice, too!
How did you find out about Pace and what made you decide to choose Pace?
I remember sitting with my guidance counselor in high school and telling her that I wanted to go to a school with a lot of diversity. She gave me a list of schools, and Pace was on there. So I visited in April when it was super nice out, and I saw the campus and thought, “This feels good. This feels right.” I knew from that point on that I was going here. My parents were skeptical at first, but I said, “This is where I need to go,” and I’m glad I listened to myself, because now I’m here!
What’s it like being an RA?
I think everyone views the RA role very differently, and everyone decides to be an RA for different reasons. For me, I just wanted to help people realize they have a lot of potential in this world and that they can do anything that they want to do. I think sometimes we need that helping hand, like I want to be that person who doesn’t tell you what to do—I want to give you breadcrumbs to follow.
How has this position challenged you?
Something that I struggle with in my personal life is administrative tasks. A lot of the RA job involves things like handing paperwork in, dealing with confidentiality, things of that nature, and those aren’t my strengths. So it’s challenged me in that way, and I think it’s been a good challenge. It’s something I need to be more aware of in order to really shine in those tasks. So knowing that really helps me to be able to do my job better.
What’s it like working at the LGBTQA and Social Justice Center? How did you get started there?
It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get really emotional when I talk about it. I heard about the center at Orientation, but at that point, I was too scared to step foot inside their office. Then they held an LGBTQA+ prom and out of nowhere, I was like, “Let’s go! We should just go!” So I went with my friend Sydney and I was so excited to be there. Erin Furey, the assistant director of the program, asked why I wasn’t around more. She told me that my energy was really great, so I came back in my second year to start an organization with my friends called the Queer Society. We needed a lot of help with that, and so we went to Furey and the center, and then I guess that’s where our relationship really started.
I got even more experience when I applied to be a queerleader. That’s when I realized I love engaging with students—and that goes back to why I love being an RA, too. So I became a queerleader and then co-president of the Queer Society, and I was like, “Wait, I should apply to be an intern here.” It was work that I wanted to contribute to in a more concrete way. It’s literally the best thing ever. I want to do this job for the rest of my life.
How has your time at Pace shaped who you are today?
Pace has allowed me to make really meaningful and lasting friendships with people, and helped me to realize how much I love school and love being a student. I wish I could be a student forever because I just love to learn, and being a women and gender studies major has exposed me to a lot of information that’s always swept under the rug. I feel like I am in a constant state of challenging and critiquing everything that I’ve learned because I want to make sure I’m right, and for that I’m so thankful because then I get to take that into my personal life. You can’t change one part of your life without changing all of it, and so for me, I feel like Pace has allowed me to really change every aspect that I haven’t really liked about my life, and that has allowed me to take the tools I’ve learned into my professional life as well.
Do you have any advice for incoming first-year students who identify as LGBTQA+?
Something that I would want every LGBTQA+ individual to know is that you can’t control other people, you can’t control the world, but you can control what people you surround yourself with. You might have been through a lot of shit, but you have the power to reclaim that and to make the most amazing life for yourself despite the circumstances you’ve been put through. You just need to believe in yourself, because at the end of the day, if you believe you can do it, you can do it, because no one else is stopping you. That’s something I’ve had to learn.
Also: if you’re not feeling good about someone or a situation, it’s not good. Trust your instincts. We all have intuition, especially as LGBTQA+ people.
What has been your all-time favorite memory as far during your time here at Pace?
I had a resident tell me one time that if more people were like me, other people wouldn’t be so f***ed up. That meant so much to me. I’m eternally grateful for that person saying that.
What is something not many people know about you?
I’m very, very clumsy. When I’m walking, I don’t pay attention, and because of that break a lot of things. It’s so weird because with everything else I’m very thoughtful and I really think about things, but I feel like I’m an airhead sometimes. Like I woke up two hours ago and I’ve already dropped my phone four times. I’m not exaggerating.
Any words of wisdom?
Be yourself, kiddos. And follow your heart in a way that feels comfortable for you.
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