Miabella Santana’s persistent drive to be an agent of social justice can be summed up in one word that has defined much of her life and work: community. Engaging in thoughtful, earnest conversations with diverse minds from all walks of life. From a young age, this has shaped much of Santana’s approach to what she does.
Though born in the Bronx, Santana attended high school in Manhattan, where she interacted with students from a range of different cultures.
“I had friends from so many different communities,” Santana said. “It really was a different vibe. I met people from so many boroughs of New York and from all across America, and they all had different traditions and ways of life. It was a special experience for me.”
Sports played an enormous role in Santana’s upbringing as well. Growing up in a family that was big on baseball, she started partaking in athletic activities from a young age, particularly softball and swimming. Her father coached her in tee ball and softball on and off until high school, which was a special part of her relationship with her dad. Sports also provided an opportunity for her to travel to various parts of the country including Puerto Rico, where her family is from.
“Swimming and softball were really important to me as a kid and taught me so much,” Santana said. “At first, I would dread going to practices, but soon that became where I had the most fun. I got to meet so many people through sports, and it really helped make me who I am.”
Unfortunately, Santana suffered a serious injury to her ankle in senior year, which required surgery. Though she does not actively play sports anymore, she said she will always cherish those activities as a crucial and extraordinary part of her life.
After high school, Santana attended college in Plattsburgh. Though she initially had majored in psychology as a freshman, and she switched to human development and family relations as a sophomore, during her junior year she finally found her calling in gender and women’s studies.
“GWS really opened my eyes,” Santana said. “It made me look and think much deeper about issues in everyday life and what we can be doing to help those who need it. I wish I had found this major sooner — I really fell in love with it immediately.”
Santana emphasized that the conversation-based approach of this major was her favorite aspect. She loves engaging with people with various viewpoints and conversing about issues that matter to them, such as human rights, equality, and progressive social movements.
Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Connie Oxford noted that while Santana excelled in constructive discussions in a classroom setting, she went above and beyond that — she manifested those ideas and principles into real, concrete actions.
“Mia is committed to feminist praxis, taking the ideas of feminism and putting them into practice,” Oxford said. “Her work with the Title IX office on campus is one way that she works to bring social justice to campus. She’s done great things here at SUNY Plattsburgh and I know she will continue to do them when she leaves. She’s a shining light for others.”
Santana’s internship with the Title IX office has become vehicle for her interests in combating gender discrimination, abuse and inequality. She had started the internship as a junior, and has since then worked as a violence prevention peer educator.
“During my internship, I worked with my supervisor to host various events on campus, such as events about healthy and unhealthy relationships,” Santana said. “It’s really important to me that I help teach people about these crucial issues, because there’s still so much work to be done. I’m going to be forever grateful for this opportunity.”
Santana’s supervisor, Violence Prevention Education and Outreach Coordinator Zyaijah Nadler, lauded her energy, charisma and commitment to what she does.
“Mia has worked as an intern and a peer educator for the Title IX office for the past two years. Each semester she has brought an immense amount of leadership, laughter, light, and style into the office,” Nadler said. “During her time, she has planned and facilitated several events on various topics, engaged fraternity and sorority life in open discussions and greeted individuals coming into the office. Her natural leadership skills, motivation and friendly demeanor allow her to work well with anyone she encounters. While I’m sure we’ll stay in touch beyond her upcoming graduation, she is a true gem that will be missed dearly in our office and we are incredibly proud of her accomplishments thus far.”
Santana has no intention of slowing down her work in helping people after college. In fact, she plans on committing herself to becoming an agent for change.
“I plan on working with a non-profit to help people who have experienced violence,” Santana said. “I enjoy helping people and I want to do my part as much as I can. I don’t want to stress too much about the job I will have because I know that isn’t how life works, but I am grateful every step of the way.”