It's hard to miss Gigi Soliman as she bustles through The Bricks. Despite her five-foot, three-inch stature, Soliman's energetic presence draws attention as she stops to chat in a buttoned-up shirt and vest. Some days she'll even don a bow tie.
Soliman, a third-year law student whose given name is Jihan, won the presidency of the Student Bar Association in the spring elections, making her the first lesbian SBA president in Florida. The term is for two semesters, and will end in March 2012.
"I feel like only UM could have given me this opportunity to become a SBA president and to do great things for this campus," said Soliman, a 24-year-old Miami native who came out a decade ago. She has nothing to hide, she said, and if asked, will proudly present her Republican Party voting registration card and acknowledge her conservative political views, which she attributes to her Islamic heritage.
She said that her gay status did not arise during the campaign. "No one ever thought of it to be momentous," Soliman said.
But having an openly gay president may have far-reaching effects at Miami Law, where the average age of a J.D. is the same as Soliman's.
"It's encouraging," said Dale Noll, co-president of OUTLaw, a student organization that seeks to advance the interests of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community at Miami Law. "It shows any student that is here, or thinking about coming here, can be themselves at this campus," he said.
Noll, who came out during his undergraduate year, said there is a direct link between being comfortable with one's identity and having a successful professional career.
"You're making connections in law school with people you're going to be working with in the future," he said. "If you're comfortable with yourself and with your peers, it's ultimately going to improve your relationships with your future colleagues."
Seeing Soliman at ease with her own identity can only help others do the same, he said.
Lori L. Lorenzo, the associate director of Diversity and Special Programs, said she recognizes the benefits of having an openly gay SBA president.
"Miami Law is known for the diversity of its student body, faculty and staff, and for consistently producing quality attorneys," said Lorenzo, who noted that diversity encompasses students who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, people who have traditionally been excluded or underrepresented in the practice of law. The election of Soliman, she says, demonstrates that Miami Law is a truly inclusive environment, safe for everyone.
Before arriving at the law school, Soliman attended Florida State University, where she graduated magna cum laude with a double major in political science and social science.
She became involved as a student ambassador at Miami Law in her first and second year. Last spring, she volunteered at the Center for Ethics and Public Service and at STREET LAW Miami, under which she teaches high-school students about the law.
"We appreciate Gigi's commitment to student issues and concerns and value her love for the university and our unique community," said Lindsey Lazopoulos, a recent Miami Law graduate and former SBA President.
As president, Soliman intends to increase access to career opportunities for students from out of state, and help students manage their on-campus time between and after classes by creating rest-only areas.
She also wants to expand the guidelines for clinics to protect students from being penalized for working on cases during times that conflict with other class work. Soliman said contracts need to be changed to work in favor of the students, not against them.
Soliman would also like to see faculty liaisons work as third parties to help students who are unable to discuss certain matters with clinic directors.
After graduation, Soliman hopes to work at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office before pursuing a career with the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps. After returning to civilian life, she wants to obtain a job in the public sector, pursuing tenants' property rights.