Caroline De Quesada is sitting in front of a room of Greek chapter leaders who, by late November, are burnt out by a long semester. Her chihuahua Hamilton — named after Alexander, the Founding Father for whom her affinity runs deep — is perched magisterially on her lap. She hates having to read Robert’s Rules of Order to start and end the meeting, but the first requirement of being Inter-Greek Council president, the face of NYU Greek life, is showing up. Caroline De Quesada shows up.
Perhaps she’d rather be behind her camera, snapping pictures of sweaty dancers at Greek Life’s New York Dance Marathon as it roars on in Kimmel. Or maybe she’d rather be live from Studio 8 at her Saturday Night Live photo internship, where she spends Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. She’d even rather be darting to class on Mondays and Wednesdays, the only days she could find time to be on campus and complete her history major, declared only this semester after starting on a pre-law track and meandering through two years in Tisch photo.
“I get really sad if I’m not supremely busy,” De Quesada said. “I don’t do well with having free time. It makes me go a little bit nutty.”
Hustling is kind of her specialty. As a freshman, it landed her the Panhellenic Council social media gig. When she was a sophomore, it allowed her to take the leap to Panhellenic president, a spot usually reserved for juniors and seniors. When junior year rolled around, she was pretty much a lock for IGC president. She hardly takes credit for any of it. That’s part of her charm.
“I’m just surrounded by excellent, excellent people that make my mediocrity seem semi-excellent,” she said.
The crowning achievement of her presidency has been overhauling Gateways, the members education program of NYU Greek life, and prioritizing adding a sexual assault component to the program.
Working with Fraternity and Sorority Life Assistant Director David Gonzalez, she revamped the material to make it more palatable to a group of college kids. The old Gateways was everything you’d imagine it to be — like a dull class or meeting. The new Gateways engages students, replete with Anderson Cooper videos and presenters that will make people laugh while simultaneously understanding the severity of the material, she said.
“When it comes to Gateways, she has a certain lens to everything that I simply don’t have,” Gonzalez said. “She was able to be a great insight as to what she’s seeing and what the community sees.”
She didn’t feign to undertake the task of reforming Gateways on her own, however. She called on the expertise of Students for Sexual Respect to help shape it.
“I want to draw from the best at NYU and have Greek life be at the forefront,” De Quesada said. “We’re not insulated. I want to be a part of the bigger picture.”
That intrinsic ability to see scope without getting consumed by it has been the theme of her time as IGC president. She doesn’t get today’s busy schedule tangled with tomorrow’s to-do list.
“She has such an uncanny way of seeing that view, sitting back and saying, ‘It is what it is, I’m only one human,’” Gonzalez, who meets with her weekly as FSL adviser, said. “It’s easy to break down for a second. I’ve never got that from her. She just laughs about it moves forward.”
For one student, she’s gotten quite a lot done. She’s done away with the IGC’s stiff executive board meetings, instead starting every meeting with “pows and wows,” the board members’ highs and lows for the week. And she’s very hands-on: She’s met with all 32 fraternity and sorority chapter leaders, all of whom have her number in their phones if they need to text her in the middle of the night when the wheels begin to fall off.
That’s only for emergencies, though. If she had it her way, she’d be in bed by 10 p.m. — Greek life’s grandmother, if everyone wanted to be best friends with their grandmothers. She’s as likely to show up to a meeting in an oversized cat T-shirt as a blazer. In lieu of partying constantly, she whips up some bagel bites and sits down with a nice historical biography in her spare time.
“Throughout the time that I’ve known her, she’s always been compassionate, energetic and thoughtful,” Ryan Thomas, chair of the Student Senators Council, said. “She focuses on building a sense of support and community for those around her.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a time where De Quesada wasn’t leading. In high school in Tampa, Florida, she held a laundry list of leadership roles: president of the All-Boys Theatre Club and the All-Girls Theatre Club, president of the Animal Rights Club, editor-in-chief of the newspaper. She’s never gone more than a couple months without being in charge of something, so when college ends, the only plan she has for filling that void is to mother the hell out of Hamilton and her other dog, Eleanor. If history is any indication, though, it’s a safe bet she’ll find herself at the helm of something soon.
“I don’t know why I kept getting picked for leadership positions,” De Quesada said. “I was just always there, and they were like, ‘alright you can have it.’ Just showing up is literally why I am who I am.”
Read the rest of Influential 2016 here.
Email Bobby Wagner at [email protected]