Lauren Lastra, MPA, is Director of Student Services and Accreditation Deputy at Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the current President of Santa Ynez Valley Pride. I’m delighted to be speaking with her about her LGBTQ+ Advocacy work.
Angela: Anyone who has attended Pacifica, or worked here during the last fourteen years, holds you in high esteem as our dynamic Director of Student Services and Accreditation Deputy. But you have also served on Pacifica’s Diversity Task Force focused on Student Matters and the Diversity and Inclusion Council, among others. For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a little about the function of Student Services, but also about how you bring “a just and mission-centered approach to organizational life”?
Lauren: Student Services at Pacifica is ever-evolving. So as I see it, there are a lot of different layers of student support at Pacifica designed to help students successfully navigate through their program. As a metaphor, I like to imagine each student is a unique acorn that already has the DNA in itself to excel at Pacifica, to become that wise old oak tree, it just needs the right environment. That is where the different layers of student support come in, depending on what environment the student needs in order to thrive. It could be academic-related support via our writing tutors or the Graduate Research Library, or perhaps it’s more administrative support dealing with housing and dining or financial aid. All of these student support-related departments, including program faculty and chairs, are here to make the student experience an environment where each student, or each acorn if we are going along with the metaphor, can truly transform and thrive. Student Services continually works to provide a seamless and supportive experience for our students.
All of my work in Student Services is informed by a just and mission-centered approach. One of my main objectives is to look at who is at the table of decision-making, who has a voice, and then more importantly, identify who may be missing from that table and needs to be brought into the conversation. Whether it’s in a small meeting amongst colleagues or in a larger forum, I’m always asking myself: Is there any voice missing here that should be brought in or amplified? I believe there’s space for us all, and as campus leaders, we need to be intentional about making that space.
Angela: What do you most value about working at Pacifica?
Lauren: I landed at Pacifica about fifteen years ago now and what initially drew me to Pacifica is what keeps me at Pacifica: the motto “Tending Soul in and of the World.” Something about it resonated with me. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I knew I was curious about it. Fifteen years later, I’m still curious. I believe our motto can manifest in a lot of different ways and can be transformative both personally and communally; when I think of all the meaningful work our students do in their home communities, that ripple effect is so beautiful and transformative. And for me personally, my work here gave me language and a new frame by which to process grief. I landed at Pacifica shortly after my brother suddenly passed, and I needed to move back to my hometown of Santa Barbara. I applied at Pacifica and was hired on my brother’s birthday, which was the first birthday we celebrated without him here. I believe that’s synchronicity, landing in exactly the right place at the right time. I initially started in the M.A. Counseling Psychology Program, working in their practicum traineeship office, where faculty and staff held space so beautifully for me to process my grief, and I have since worked in several different roles and capacities at the Institute.
Angela: In August, you participated as a panelist for Pacifica’s “Embracing Authenticity: A Depth Psychological Perspective on Mental Health Issues Within the LGBTQ+ Communities,” an event that was part of Pride Month celebrations here, focusing on “queer and trans issues, depth psychology, and mental health.” I’m curious how depth psychology, in particular, can serve the LGBTQ+ community and what you consider the most pressing issues of mental health care in this regard?
Lauren: I’m not a depth psychologist nor an expert in the field, but I do consider myself an activist for the LGBTQ+ community. So from my time at Pacifica and my familiarity with depth psychology, an important piece seems to be around ritual and creating ritual. For me, I see Pride, in part, as a community ritual that allows the LGBTQ+ community to feel seen and mirrored by public displays of acceptance, celebration, and inclusion. I think feeling a deep sense of belonging also ties in with the mental health aspect as well. We see it in the data, such as the Trevor Project’s comprehensive national survey of LGTBQ+ youth.
Angela: Aside from your advocacy and service at Pacifica, you are also the current President of Santa Ynez Valley Pride and a Board Director of People Helping People in Solvang, a small community about an hour away from Pacifica. How have you found LGBTQ+ advocacy to be in that context?
Lauren: I grew up in Santa Barbara, and my wife and I and our two kids moved to Santa Ynez Valley in Fall of 2020. So we’re just going into our third year here, and it’s been an interesting transition. I’ve realized that while in Santa Barbara, I didn’t participate as much in civil discourse and what was going on in the community because I assumed someone was speaking up for me, or that there wasn’t a need or space for my voice. Yet when I moved to Santa Ynez, it was really eye opening to be reminded of June Jordan’s words, that were later repeated by Barack Obama, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” If I didn’t participate in creating a more inclusive and loving community, who would? It was moving to a smaller, more conservative town that really shifted my perspective in terms of being an active participant in my community. That’s what led me to help found Santa Ynez Valley Pride, which is the first nonprofit organization in the valley dedicated to the queer and trans community. And it’s only been in place since 2022, which is mind-boggling. The community was waiting for this space, for years, and now that we finally have it, we have to fight to keep it.
This also ties into my work with People Helping People, a longstanding and well-regarded non-profit in Solvang that offers vital services, such as food distribution, housing security, and mental health wellness and counseling. Some of our Pacifica students are doing their practicum at People Helping People, and it’s been nice to hear how appreciated and valued they are there.
Perhaps a silver lining to Covid was that it forced me to be mindful and intentional with the community I was building because social contact was so limited at the time. I wanted to be of purpose in my community, and that’s what led me to both of those roles.
Angela: You’ve recently been honored for your work in advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. Please tell us about your amazing experience with Copenhagen Pride in Denmark.
Lauren: Earlier this year, Copenhagen Pride reached out to Santa Ynez Valley Pride in support of Pride celebrations and our work for the local LGBTQ+ community. It came after another organization had proposed rainbow banners in Solvang for Pride month, but the city council denied the banners. So the connection there, which many probably don’t know, is the town of Solvang is part of the Santa Ynez Valley, and is where we’ve hosted Pride the last two years; it’s also the Danish capital of America. Part of the argument at the City Council meeting was that rainbow banners wouldn’t align with the Danish tradition. This got international coverage, and Copenhagen Pride learned that their Danish ancestry was being used to exclude the LGBTQ+ community. They said, wait a minute, Denmark is very progressive and has been leading the way for decades for LBGTQ+ rights. We at Santa Ynez Valley Pride then worked with Copenhagen Pride in sending a letter from the Mayor Andersen of Copenhagen to the mayor of Solvang, urging him to support and embrace Pride and the local LGBTQ+ community, as that is the Danish way. Shortly after the letter was sent, the banners were up for re-vote, and the mayor flipped his vote and the banners were approved. Weeks later, we held our 2nd annual Pride Parade and Festival in June, and it was a really successful event which also included several events all month long.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago when Copenhagen Pride invited us to the lead the parade with them. They estimated about 300,000 people watched the 6-mile parade route with over 50,000 people actually in the parade. It was a full, front-row tour of Copenhagen with hundreds of thousands of people celebrating and cheering and uplifting one another. Just a really beautiful event. We then were invited to speak on stage following the Parade alongside Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s nephew and co-founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation. That was a pretty surreal moment.
We were also able to meet the Mayor Andersen of Copenhagen, who wrote the letter of support a few months earlier, and she gave us a private tour of City Hall. It was so meaningful to learn more about Denmark’s progressive laws, but also to experience it firsthand, to be in the physical space.
Our six days in Copenhagen were truly a whirlwind of events, unfolding very organically and fast, but we kept saying “Yes” to the opportunities before us, which led us to some incredible moments. We will definitely continue ties with Copenhagen Pride. Some of their staff are coming to Solvang this fall to meet. We’re informally talking about becoming Sister Prides. I don’t know what exactly that will look like, but there’s an ongoing collaborative spirit between us.
Angela: Thank you for your wonderful work at Pacifica and for the LGBTQ+ community, and congratulations on being honored by Copenhagen Pride. I look forward to seeing more of your mission manifesting at Pacifica and the larger horizon.
For more information and news on Santa Ynez Valley Pride, visit here or their Instagram is syv.pride.
Lauren Lastra, MPA, is Director of Student Services and Accreditation Deputy at Pacifica Graduate Institute who is committed to a just and mission-centered approach to organizational life. She has served as a member on several councils and committees, including Pacifica’s Diversity Task Force focused on Student Matters, the Diversity and Inclusion Council, and the President’s Task Force on Campus Climate and Employee Morale. She has worked at Pacifica since 2009 in various capacities, including as the Institute’s Sustainability Coordinator and in the Office of the President. Prior to coming to Pacifica, Lauren lived in the Valparaiso region of Chile where she worked as an Educator for the United Nations Development Program. Lauren actively serves as the current President of Santa Ynez Valley Pride and as a Board Director of People Helping People in Solvang, CA. She is a mama, outdoor enthusiast, and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community.
Angela Borda is a writer for Pacifica Graduate Institute, as well as the editor of the Santa Barbara Literary Journal. Her work has been published in Food & Home, Peregrine, Hurricanes & Swan Songs, Delirium Corridor, Still Arts Quarterly, Danse Macabre, and is forthcoming in The Tertiary Lodger and Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 5.