The Best Advice Ever: A Compilation From An Incredible Evening

In this continued series, I recap awesome tried-and-true advice I’ve received over the years. In an effort to share the wisdom, I pass it along to you! Last night, I was invited to attend an event put on by the George Washington University’s chapter of National Association of Women MBAs. The Professional Women’s Roundtable hosted over 100 women- mostly graduate, but a few undergraduate- and feature 10 women whose resumes would make your jaw drop. You can (and should) take a look at the speakers here.

At the end of the event, each of the 10 women stood and shared a sort of final reflection, some in two parts. What struck me is how simple these are- most of this advice are things I’ve heard before but hearing it from these role models was a great reminder that sometimes we just need to go back to basics.  I’ve typed their advice below for your reflection too!

  1. Stop explaining your choices.
  2. If the community doesn’t exist, create it. Then, make sure you can leave it and it will continue to thrive.
  3. When identifying a mentor, you don’t need someone 10 steps ahead of you- maybe just one or two!
  4. Be confident in yourself, the rest is just noise.
  5. Set boundaries.
  6. Be prepared, plan ahead, and have two sets of everything if you travel often.
  7. Things will go wrong along the way, believe in yourself when they do
  8. You may not always know what you’re learning, but be confident there are lessons to be learned.
  9. Go with the flow- this doesn’t meant to be passive. Rather, when an opportunity comes up and it feels right, go for it.
  10. Learning’s not done until you’re dead. Also, don’t be a control freak.
  11. Being fearless/brave is hard. Be brave- there is nothing you cannot ask for.
  12. The deal isn’t done until there’s money in the bank.
  13. At the end of the day, you’ve got to deliver. People know who’s doing what…and who isn’t.

Which of these stands out most to you? What have you struggled with and what came naturally? What is a new concept you’d like to explore further?

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A Reflection on September 15, 2001

I wrote this piece  three years ago in my first year as a new professional working at Georgetown University. I have shared it with many students, colleagues, friends and family.. Let’s remember the legacy of September 15th, 2001 and the sacrifices that continue to be demanded in our communities in the name of so-called justice and the dream for a better America.  In the memory of Balbir Singh Sodi, his family, and those of us who can see our parents a little too easily in the same scenario, I wish upon all of us a feeling of true safety and security as we get up and leave our homes each day.

 

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Originally posted on 11/29/2011 on the Student Affairs Collective Blog

 

The ten-year anniversary of September 11th, 2001 has come and passed. A somber day for some, a day of celebration and love for many others, and, at the very least, a day of reflection within and beyond the borders of the United States, this past Sunday was full of open conversation, personal meaning-making, and focusing on an event that raised a new national and global consciousness.

I remember everything about that day. I also remember the days, weeks, and months after. I remember people saying things like “oh, those crazy terrorists…” and then looking at me quickly before shifting their gaze. I am an Indian American Hindu woman, born in an upper middle class, majority white community in the suburbs of Chicago. Those identities had never been as salient as they were until 9/11/01 and the days that followed.

The rest of the first week was a confusing mess. Everybody was searching for an outlet to process what happened and, mimicking national media, much of the conversation focused on terrorists, Islam, and fear. I continued to get confused looks, as if asking “I see you are brown. Are you one of “them?” My parents were confused as well. As first-generation immigrants, this was not the American dream they signed up for. I noticed them making more of an effort to talk to our neighbors, leave outside lights on, and other indicators that we were part of the suburban culture that we never made a conscious effort to participate in beforehand. That same Friday, at a gathering of my parents’ friends (all Indian and Hindu), I noticed American flags on their cars which had not been there a week ago. Many of them shared stories of harassment at work, questions about whether they knew any of the people, and other horrifying stories filled with fear, anxiety, and confusion about how to proceed, protect their families, and continue the struggle toward becoming American culturally.

Then came September 15th, 2011. The story did not make national headlines, nor did it reach my family until years later. Thanks to the work of filmmaker Valarie Kaur, the story of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a business owner from Mesa, Arizona has begun to reach the eyes and ears of millions around the country. Sodhi, a Sikh American whose family has lived in the United States for decades, was mistaken for an Arab American and shot to death in front of the very business that he built. Within 25 minutes of his death, the Phoenix police reported four more attacks on people who were either Middle Eastern or who dressed with clothes thought to be worn by people of Middle Eastern descent.

Since that time, there have been countless instances, both reported and unreported, of attacks against people who are perceived, often incorrectly, to look Arab, which is problematic either way. Sometimes physical, and often verbal, news of these instances affect me more each day, as if the wound is continuously reopened.

Two years ago, my family’s mailbox at our home in Illinois was blown up using a homemade bomb. We do not know who did it or why. We have received threats on our answering machine from unknown numbers and my father’s car was egged in front of our home this past summer. I am asked on a weekly basis about where I am really from, complimented on my ability to speak English, and asked to be an authority on Hinduism and India. I have been stopped routinely at airports for random searches, which have become invasive and embarrassing as a result of increased racial profiling. It is, at the very least, taxing and alienating. At most, I feel unsafe, targeted, and like an outsider in the country in which I was born.

I cannot say that these instances happened as a direct result of post 9/11/2001 racism, mistaken racial identity, part of the price to pay for living in my Chicago suburb, or anything else, but I live in a world where by I have to wonder. My September 11th narrative has been dictated by the events that followed. As a person of South Asian descent, reflection on 9/11 each year is not optional nor is it filled with hope. I must live it every day as part of who I am and being aware of what I carry into spaces. September 15,2001 changed my life profoundly. A day filled with hate, rage, racism, and misguided hurt, has birthed legacies of anxiety and distrust that I must carry with me each day as an Indian American Hindu woman, sister, daughter, Hall Director, student affairs practitioner, and U.S. Citizen.

#repAAPIHM Post 1: I Am Beyond the Traditional Curriculum

Happy First Day of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! For the next 31 days, I’m excited to participate in the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund‘s blog re/present’s photo/writing challenge via my personal blog, twitter, and facebook. #repaapihm
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Today’s theme is “I am Beyond” for #repAAPIHM. For many reasons, participating in the #BeyondBollywood exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History has been a profoundly moving experience (you can read more about my experience here). I’ve had the opportunity to teach, reflect, hear the narratives of complete strangers and close friends I would have never heard otherwise, and more.

On the blog for today, a short piece on the power of knowing and claiming history. The best part, hands down, about spending a significant amount of time in this exhibit, has been the opportunity to engage with a history that is not traditionally taught in schools. I was one of the very few people in the country who was lucky enough to (a) attend an undergraduate institution with (b) an Asian American Studies program that (c) had South Asian American and Indian American faculty and (d) had a curriculum that allowed me the flexibility to take these courses.

One of the most liberating experiences of my life (and my mind) was sitting in a classroom and being taught about not only the reason that so many Indian Americans were in the United States and were doctors, lawyers, engineers, and cab drivers, but why that was the case. Learning the history of medicare, the need to recruit people from certain professions, and connecting it to immigration and visa politics helped me to make sense of the class and race construction of my community. It made the world a little bit more clear and supported my understanding of living in a bicultural identity. It was one of the most beautiful and liberating times in my life- one of the only times that I felt a truly seamless experience with the world that wasn’t torn between who I was in the classroom and outside of it.

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of co-facilitating a tour with a dear friend for some of my past students at Georgetown University. It was incredible to watch these students go through the exhibit and engage with not only the history of how their community came to be in the country (they’d never known most of the information) to seeing themselves represented in artwork, music history, connections to violence and institutionalized oppression in the US, and more. They left the exhibit wide-eyed and excited to continue their conversation and expressed frustration that, for the approximately 20 years they’d been in school, they never learned this history. For me, it was a moment of heartbreak- I wish more people could have the experience I had- to learn their history, to see themselves in the fabric of the country, and to feel integration between what is often many separate realities.

Here is a call to continue the fight for race and ethnic studies programs, for exploring a truly interdisciplinary approach to education, to critically engage with what it means to create an inclusive learning environment (and to recognize that that may or may not exist in a classroom).

As we enter Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and spend the month learning, growing, and building community, I am proud to say this: I am beyond the traditional curriculum.

 

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Supporting Staff Who Are “The Only…”: Post-Convention Re-Entry

This past month, I was lucky enough to swing by both major conferences for Student Affairs professionals, and, wow, am I glad I did. After 2 years away, it was indescribable to spend a day and a half at NASPA, my first professional home that recruited me into the field. I spent time talking with many influential mentors, meeting new people, processing new ideas, finding strength in community (particularly a quickly growing community of South Asian American professionals in Higher Education) and being coached to not only remember what my dreams are but to chase after them in a way I’d forgotten or was discouraged from pursuing within the context of my salient identities. My mentors, many of whom are Asian American women, are spread all over the country and the only time I can see them in person are at these national conferences.

A few days after the closing of NASPA, I noticed a number of Asian American women I’m connected to in the field were reporting feeling lonely, unmotivated, hopeless, and overall sad at work/school. Almost all of them were the only Asian American [woman] in their office or division, perhaps even on their campus and they were all sharing narratives with the common themes I listed. I spent some time talking to people at ACPA and am confident that this experience described above may be pretty familiar for anyone working in student affairs with a minoritized identity. It got me thinking about how a big part of what we need to think about  as a field is post-convention re-entry.

For professionals who work in heteronormative environments (which is, well, everyone), and spend the majority of their time being one of “the only”, affinity spaces at conference such as knowledge communities, standing commissions, etc. provide space for a few blissful days where many professionals remember or learn for the first time what it feels like to be part of a community, to speak openly, and – most importantly- to know that when they share their struggles, they are understood. It can be traumatic to come from a liberating space back to a space of feeling silenced, misunderstood, tokenized, lonely, and hyper-visible.

As a student at the Social Justice Training Institute in 2012, we talked at length about the re-entry process. That coming back to work, life, etc could bring up moments of anger, frustration, affection and more that the people around us had little to no context to understand. While some of the topical matter is different, I don’t think this was particularly different from what I saw happening to so many after attending a large national conference.

If you have a staff member who you know identifies saliently as one of “the only”, and that you think may be experiencing some of this post-conference struggle, here’s a list of suggestions to help your staff and colleagues feel supported as they navigate re-entry after a convention:

1.) Make Space for Processing

This may mean either creating a dialogue space to debrief a conference experience, encouraging a staff member to reschedule some meetings to ease back into work, or empowering them to reach out to some of the people they met at the conference for support. In any case, it’s important for a staff member to recognize their manager or coworker can empathize with the re-entry process and values self-care to make meaning of the experience. As a graduate student at the University of Vermont, our first Residential Education Team meeting after a major conference was in small facilitated groups to talk about our experience at conference from a perspective of where triggers were raised, how we were adjusting to being back on campus, where we found energy and where we were feeling otherwise. It was very helpful and allowed me to build bridges of trust and support on my team.

2.) Consult the Theory

In the spirit of being a scholar-practitioner, put this process in the adaptive model of any identity development theory. Identity is fluid and while someone may “arrive” at a certain moment in accordance with a model, it is just as easy to slip into another fundamental stage of identity development. My identity as an Indian American is sometimes completely clear but, after attending and being involved with multiple Asian American communities, sometimes I need time and space to rethink it and how I show up in those spaces. This is going to be happening for the rest of my life. It may help to listen to the staff member talk about which identity is most salient for them and educate yourself on how to support people with that identity in the context of published theory.

3.) Be Patient

This is a process and chances are, with the meaning the individuals are making, they may not appear “back to normal” by the end of the week or month, or maybe ever. Be patient with these people and be willing to accept that the sometimes liberating space of community can mean healthy shifts in self-perception, stating of individual needs, etc. Of course, everyone would expect the work to continue, but there may be shifts in attitudes, energy, etc. Again, provide a space to affirm and listen to the experiences and suggestions.

4.) Be Open to Change

The person or people who are experiencing post-convention trauma will likely have ideas for change to make the experience for others like them less traumatic. I recommend listening to them, consulting other colleagues at peer institutions, and considering implementing some of the changes they recommend in a way that works in your office and institutional culture. Allyship is a major part of this process and action is a critical part of being a good ally.

5.) Support National Conference Attendance in the Future

In a time where professional development funds are quickly disappearing, and “professional development” is increasingly centralized to campuses in the form of webinars, guest speakers, etc., I encourage managers to think about the critical space that a national conference serves in terms of building community and support for people who are underrepresented institutionally and regionally. At ACPA, I worked with one colleague from the Midwest to organize a dinner for South Asian American professionals. Of the only  roughly 50 South Asian American professionals identified from all over the country, only 9 were at the ACPA conference and able to make this dinner. It would be impossible for me to find a space like this to share my narrative, feel affirmed, and energized to go back to work and continue my service of students if my professional development support had been encapsulated to my campus or my region. I came back with a network of people from all over the country I can reach out to for support, most of whom I’d never met in person or even heard of before the meal. I also came back with plenty of great ideas for my work, was able to represent my institution, and even participate in informal professional staff search processes. This is a call to expand the definition of professional development and also see it as a way to be a strong ally for staff, promote retention of a diverse staff, and build a truly inclusive institutional culture. Attending a national conference was a critical step in re-energizing around my work as a University administrator, social justice practitioner, changemaker, community organizer, and a member of the field in student affairs. As we continue to see trends of people with minoritized identities leaving the field of student affairs overall, consider what can be done on a campus in order to build communities of support and live true to our campus and professional organization’s missions to increase diversity in the field.

What else would you add to the list? 

 

 

Here’s a few other great post-convention reflections:

My Reinvention at ACPA by Ed Cabellon

Beyond ACPA: Reflecting on Re-Entry and Involvement by Heather Shea Gasser

Professional Development Soul Food by Chris Conzen

Beyond Bollywood: The Power Of a Story in a Museum

Two years ago my parents came to visit me in my then-new home in Washington, DC. My father excused himself to go find a restroom on our visit to the National Museum of Natural History. We moved along, assuming he would call us to find us when he returned. Over an hour went by and we got concerned- he wasn’t picking up his phone and wasn’t in any restroom. We found him almost thirty minutes later, panicked, shaken and angry. He had left his phone at home by accident and had spent the last thirty minutes begging people if he could use their cell phone to call me. Every single person walked by and ignored him until finally one other Indian man stopped and let him call us. “Thirty five years I’ve lived here, paid taxes, built a life, earned two degrees and today I was treated like dirt by my fellow Americans.” he said.

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Almost exactly two years later, in the same site of this traumatic moment, I had the privilege of seeing the Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation exhibit. The exhibit, which opened last week, has been the site of much buzz- people are excited about it around the world. The idea of seeing a story that is rarely taught in schools, that represents the narrative of so many people in this country, in the heart of the Nation’s capital is both exciting and terrifying. Months ago, I signed up to be a volunteer docent over the course of the next year for the exhibit. I was nervous when I did it- would the exhibit portray the “traditionally conservative” view of the Indian American community? (in quotes because I don’t think it’s as “traditional” as some people want to believe- there are so many progressive Desi people you wouldn’t even believe it!) Would it address the complex, layered, and vibrant history going back over 200 years of Indians in the United States? Would it feed the model minority stereotype view or provide a space to challenge and engage further?

I was disheartened to see an article go viral late last week, barely 24 hours after the exhibit opened, accusing the exhibit of exactly what I’d feared- a flat heteronormative perspective of the community ignoring the multifaceted and rich depth of narratives, feeding the model minority view of Indian Americans fueled by internalized racism creating pressure to only be seen as high-achieving spelling bee winners, and representing only one view of Indian immigration and history. Still, I remained excited to see and form my own opinions for myself. (Note: I am choosing not to link to this piece- even before seeing the exhibit I found the article disrespectful and sensationalist. You are welcome to google it or ask someone else.)

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What I experienced was nothing like the article described. I saw a rich tapestry that evoked nostalgia, humility, anger, hurt, and pride. The exhibit is a true community effort- funded by the community, artifacts, including many breathtaking family pictures, treasured heirlooms that are being generously shared with the country, and works of art created specially for the exhibit, are just a taste of the many people who have given time, energy, and countless other investments into making this historic moment a possibility. I saw families coming to learn together in a facility funded by their government in a space that has not historically acknowledged our citizenship.  I saw the stories of people whose stories haven’t been heard intertwined with those who are familiar. I saw space for critical thought and consideration, celebration, and discovery. I saw a reflection of the diversity and complexity of the Indian American community, communicated through sharing and celebrating accomplishments, sharing stories we haven’t heard, and highlighting some critical community concerns. The stories behind every single piece, including all of the artwork (fun fact: most of the artwork was created by the artists especially for the exhibit and it is POWERFUL. Take time with it) is moving and evocative.

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Do I feel like it captures every part of my experience? Of course not. That’s why I have this blog. I would love to see a community dialogue on other Indian American community issues such as domestic violence, immigration challenges, religious segregation, public health concerns, socioeconomic disparities, drug use and abuse, and more. I’d love to see some celebration of Indian American contributions to the fields of Liberal Arts education and the rich national network dedicated to the support and survival of South Asian arts.

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But it’s not the job of only this exhibit to do thatit is the role of this exhibit to spark thought, encourage continued dialogue, and be an inviting space to ask the question of who Indian Americans are, where Indian Americans come from and what issues impact them, and where they are headed. It is up to the people who go to the exhibit to use the space to continue the work of thousands of others, who have been working for decades, to continue their public service and commitment to serving the Indian American and South Asian American community .

My final thoughts? Go check it out. Suspend your expectations. Allow yourself to feel, engage, and truly observe the exhibit. Let it sink in and bring someone with you to turn it into a conversation. Consider doing a formal tour of the exhibit on weekends or putting together a group of your own and contacting me to set up a time. I’d love to share it with you.

PS- I’m submitting the pictures below as a part of the continued growing collection! Look for them on the digital screen.

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On Friendship, Social Justice, and Living Life Like It’s a Poem by Viraj Patel

This piece was originally posted to the ACPA CSJE blog on 12/24/13- enjoy!

The CSJE Blog

My training as a social justice educator and student affairs practitioner traditionally focused on a politics of oppression instead of a politics of social justice. Let that sink in for a second (and if you’re looking for an awesome resource/guest speaker to bring to your campus about this topic, let me know; I can send along the name of someone we brought to my current institution) because my post isn’t going to focus on explaining this idea. I think this education of power and oppression is incredibly important, but some of its unintended side effects for me were to (a) focus only on situations that generate anger and hurt (b) forget how to appreciate and celebrate the beauty of the world and (c) what it means to be and feel liberated.

While I am grateful for many things at every moment, today I am truly grateful to have met one…

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How My Running Journey Reflects My Philosophy on Change

Note: This piece was originally posted on September 27th, 2013 on the Asian Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund blog, re/present. You can find the original post here

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“Write a piece about how and why you are creating change.” Eleven words, and I scratched my head for days about the topic. Sometimes it’s the most simple questions that can be the most difficult to answer. I won’t cut myself down by saying I’m not impacting change (clearly I am to someone, if I’m being asked to write about it), but I’m also not leading protests, drafting legislation, or doing other things that come to mind when we think about change. I am, simply put, just being me…and I suppose that is making change.

So I went running. Running is new for me; for 25 years, I staunchly believed that I was not a runner, nor could I be. I didn’t really know anyone else who looked like me that ran, I didn’t like feeling out of breath, and, frankly, it was really hard. Then something magical happened — I woke up one morning and just decided I wanted to start running. I’ve had friends who are runners, always training for something with a whole wall full of medals. I didn’t get it and I wasn’t very private about that. But there I was one February morning, at age 25, bouncing out of my bed at 6 am, downloading a running app, and heading to the gym.

It’s been about 7 months since that day. I can still only run about 3 miles with only a couple short pauses, and I’m waiting to run my first 10k in about a month. I can’t say it’s been easy, and there has been more than one run I’ve ended frustrated, tired, ready to call it quits, and considering a Zumba class instead. I’m incredibly proud of where I’ve come, and, during my run I realized that this whole journey, and my new personal connection to running, is the perfect allegory to the question posed at the start of this post.

Here are a few of the ways and reasons I run, and how they connect to making change — maybe they will be of use to you on your journey, as well!

  1. Stop Waiting for Opportunities to Come to You. Give Yourself the Agency to Do What You Want.
    A few of my Bollywood enthusiast friends were lamenting the fact that they wished to dance to some new music, but there were no weddings or special events coming up. In a moment of exasperation, one of my best friends piped up and said exactly what’s in bold above. Nobody invited me to run. Nobody’s life was severely impacted by me running or not running. I woke up in the morning and just went. This is symbolic of so many situations — if you want something to happen, challenge yourself to take the first step. Make a seat for yourself at the table; chances are there aren’t always people creating them for you.

  2. Recognize You Can’t Do It Alone.
    While I started running on my own, I have a whole army of people supporting me. My friends are there with me to celebrate my achievements and comfort me in my failures. People ask me how I’m doing and I answer honestly; sometimes I can respond proudly that I kept up with my training, and sometimes I sheepishly admit it’s been a few weeks. Friends send along articles and offer to go with me. By being open about what I’m trying to do, others will rise to the occasion to help.

  3. Face Your Demons.
    I noticed about a month ago that the running path I took was fun because I was going by all of the places where I had great memories. In the past few weeks, I’ve challenged myself to go by places connected to a bad memory — a place my heart was broken or even a restaurant where I had a bad dining experience. Reclaiming these spaces to be spots of change and growth instead of pain has been rewarding and empowering. You’ll know your limits and when you’re ready, but facing your demons will make you a stronger changemaker in any aspect!

  4. Be Patient With Yourself.
    Some days I can run three miles without stopping and still have energy to go hang out with friends, and some days a mile seems like it will never end. The path to change isn’t only an uphill battle; it’s full of dips, curves, and walls.

  5. Look at the Bigger Picture.
    Taking care of yourself — prioritizing your health and wellness — may seem completely disconnected from what we think about when we consider change. Consider this, though: the top 3 causes of death in the United States are obesity, smoking, and heart disease. By doing my part to take care of my body and role modeling the change for others, I am impacting change. This philosophy can be applied to anything — take education, for example. One of the things I am working on at my institution is to address the shockingly high rate of women dropping out of pursuing careers in STEM fields. While I am not necessarily implementing a national policy, I can work with a few strategic faculty and offices to create a network of support for women and institutionalize some funding to support the retention efforts.

So here we are — five ways that my running journey reflects my philosophy about change. I leave you with these questions: What do you wish you could change, and what can YOU do today to start the process?