When Juhi first brought up the idea for this #HigherEdDesi series, I almost fell off my seat at work. This was super exciting for 2016 Briana!!! If you asked Briana of 2009 that a series showcasing the #HigherEdDesi community was being put out by the Student Affairs Collective, she would have laughed in disbelief, because she didn’t think there were many people who looked like her in the field to fill up a series. I don’t blame 2009 Briana; she only knew, at the time, three people who identified as Desi in the field. My, how things have changed…
Like many Student Affairs and Higher Education journey stories begin, I never knew it was a thing until my Residence Hall Association advisor at the time, Dr. Carolyn Golz, challenged me during my sophomore year of college to think outside of the box and consider going into the field. There were many moments of uncertainty during the years following that conversation, and to make a long story short, I did the wise thing and listened to Carolyn (because to this day, she has always been a fountain of wisdom).
As I look back into my first day of my graduate classes at Loyola Chicago and my first day as a graduate student employee, I felt an immense sense of anxiety and nervousness. Some of the turmoil was feeling like I was not smart or good enough to be in the program; more commonly known as imposter syndrome. This was worked on throughout my two years at Loyola by incredibly supportive faculty who never gave up on me.
Unfortunately, this was not only manifesting itself in the classroom, but also in my work. I had an incredible support system of practitioners from all walks of life helping me through the journey and encouraging me to believe in myself; however, I was seeking a sense of home and encouragement that I could not find in them – I just didn’t know what exactly I was looking for.
There is a sense of security that develops when a person of color can rely on the wisdom of others who also happen to look like them. The journey looks less intimidating, because there is a community that has your back, that understands the context and complexities of your story, and can help you navigate the largely white, heteronormative, hegemonic systems that play out in the everyday practices of our work – because they did it too, often times successfully.
I didn’t realize how much I needed a Desi community, but Carolyn, the woman who led and mentored me to the field, knew I did. The moment she had the opportunity at a NASPA Women in Student Affairs social in Philadelphia, Carolyn grabbed me and introduced me to Dr. Mamta Accapadi. I remember meeting her and feeling incredibly grateful and overwhelmed. She took time to get to know me, share her story, connect me with other Desi professionals, and make me feel like I was part of her world all in one conversation. (Those of you who know Mamta know she has that gift.)
Fast forward a few days, I met more #HigherEdDesi professionals at a social and joined a Facebook group that quickly became a sounding board and professional home.
Fast forward to 2014: I met someone who is Malayalee (a person from Kerala, India – just LIKE ME!), Dr. Ajay Nair, and made a complete fool of myself because of my excitement of finding a Chatai (older brother) and realizing there were more Malayalees in the field!
Fast forward to 2015: a few of my Desi brothers and sisters and I planned our third annual #HigherEdDesi socials for ACPA & NASPA; all while growing as a community both physically and virtually.
Fast forward to now: I am talking, texting, emailing, calling #HigherEdDesi professionals all over the country in English, fluent Malayalam, and very broken (and pretty terrible) Hindi about our professional aspirations, challenges, successes, terminal degree journeys, and… life.
2009 Briana never knew she needed this kind of support and space until she received it. Man, she would be floored to know she has a community of over 114+ Desi professionals to lean on in a moment’s notice. That’s what is beautiful about the group of people I have come to call my professional family, my #HigherEdDesi family – they understand so much of who I am without me explaining or apologizing for it.
I am proud to be a #HigherEdDesi.
This post is part of our #HigherEdDesi series, which aims to share the stories of what it means to identify as “Desi” and working in higher ed. We hope to provide a context of how we came into Higher Education and what that journey looked like for each one of us. For more information, please see Juhi Bhatt’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Clare Cady on Access to Higher Education