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Celso J. Perez (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Mediator, moderator and scholar

Part of our 'Six to Remember' series: Celso Perez brought civility and respectful discussion to a traditionally controversial issue
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By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor
Celso J. Perez

Hometown: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Major: Biochemistry and theology

Notable Activities: Presidential Scholars Program; GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) president (2007-08), co-president (2008-09); Advanced Research Study Grant project “Bioethics, Public Health, and Catholic Theological Ethics: To support participation in the European Academy of Bioethics conference in Germany”; research intern for the United Nations Joint Program on AIDS

Post-Graduation Plans: Finish master’s degree in theology; Teach for America program in Houston; apply to law school

Overview: As head of the GLC, Perez drew praise from many quarters of the University for his efforts in fostering civil, respectful discussion on gender and sexuality issues — often a flashpoint of controversy in scholarly and religious circles.

What led to your getting involved in the GLC?

After freshman year, I worked in Haley House and Rosie’s Place as part of the Presidential Scholars “First Summer” program. It started me thinking of service as not just some romantic notion — that you go into the inner city to do good — but as being an engaged member of a community. I also participated in the Halftime retreat, during which you address three questions: “What am I good at? What brings me joy? What does the world need me to do?”

From my experience in the Catholic Church, and what I had witnessed at BC, it seemed to me the conversation here on gender and sexuality was polarized — very much an “us-versus-them” situation. In fact, it wasn’t a conversation. There was no kind of dialogue. I felt that getting involved in GLC fit that wider definition of service I’d thought of; and it would be a way of answering those three questions.

When you became president of the GLC, did you feel there were certain expectations for how you were going to do the job – that you would be adversarial or confrontational?

Was there expectation that there would be conflict? Some. My first thought, though, was that I was in this position of leadership thanks to the work of my predecessors, who had brought gender and sexuality issues to the University’s attention. But I just saw that it was time for something different.

The idea of sitting down with an administrator face to face was difficult at first. Building a rapport takes time. And as a society, we’re still dealing with what terms like “gay” or “straight” mean; there’s an anthropology around their use but it’s a relatively recent phenomenon.

Who are some of your favorite teachers and mentors?

Founders Professor of Theology James Keenan, SJ, and Assoc. Prof. John McDargh in the Theology Department, and the advising dean in the Student Programs Office I’ve worked with most closely has been Mark Miceli.

How do you think BC made a difference in your life?

Working in the GLC was definitely a growing experience, and I’m really grateful for it, and for the conversations I’ve had with Fr. Leahy and other administrators. Most of all, BC has shown me the importance of asking the question “How do I integrate my interests?” and made me realize that I — unlike so many other people in the world — have the privilege of asking that question.

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