For a very long time, I believed I was one of the few individuals that represented the “Indian” ethnicity within the Student Affairs field. I am thrilled to learn that after being a Student Affairs professional for over 17 years, not only do I have colleagues who share the same ethnicity, but I am proud to find out that these Desis have excelled in the Student Affairs field serving as an inspiration to individuals like me. This only reaffirms my decision stepping into the field.
Having the typical “Indian” parents I was supposed to be a doctor, engineer, or lawyer, but the preference was a medical doctor. Growing up, no other occupations were even permitted to be discussed in the household. In my heart, I never wanted to be any of those things, especially a doctor. Why? Because, I can’t even stand the sight of my own blood! But my parents would not even hear of it. I was never asked “what would you like to do” or “what would make you happy?” My entire childhood, becoming a doctor was continuously embedded in my everyday life. So finally when it came time to go to college, the compromise was to become a physical therapist. I would still be in a respectable field that would be accepted by my parents and their “Indian” circle of friends.
I decided to go to Kean College, now Kean University, for my undergraduate degree. At that time Kean was well known for its Physical Therapy program. When I began the pre-requisite courses for the program, I was struggling. It is difficult to do anything well when your heart is not in it. After the first semester of my freshman year, I had some unexpected obstacles that arose from personal situations at that time, and as a result I was left to finance my own education. Unfortunately, I had no one to go to for help. I was all alone. There was no office at the college that was able to gain any assistance from. I worked too hard to get to college and I was not ready to give up so easily. With no guidance or anyone in my life to point me in the right direction, I took this as a blessing in disguise. If I am paying for my education, I get to choose what I would like to major in.
I was undecided for 2 years. Finally, when it came time to choose a major, I chose to obtain a degree in Business Administration. I thought, one day, I will run my own business and be my own boss. While I was finding ways to finance my college education/experience, I discovered the Office of Residence Life and Housing. I was hired as a student worker for their office. I was exposed to Resident Assistants, Residence Hall Directors, and other Residence Life positions and had begun to learn about this whole new field. I was so intrigued that I decided I would like to become a Resident Assistant. Not to mention, it would help tremendously by financing my room and board. I applied to become a Resident Assistant my sophomore year and did not get the position. I was devastated but determined. I applied again, and finally obtained a position.
I had no idea the amount of training that went into becoming a Resident assistant, but I enjoyed every minute of it. This quickly became more than just a means for assisting me with my finances. It was too late to change my major; I graduated with a BS in Management Science. I wanted to continue in the next step after becoming a Resident Assistant but I had no idea what that was. My parents were disappointed, to say the least, with all of the decisions I had made in college. After I graduated I tried to explain to my parents that I wanted to be in a profession where I can help and mentor college students. I know how difficult it was for me and I would never want any college student to go through what I did alone.
My father had left by the time I turned 19 so it was just my mother I had to convince. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a relationship with my mother in over 15 years. There were many other culturally related factors that led to this demise but the main one was embarrassing my mother and not becoming a doctor. To this day, she does not understand what I do and why I chose to do this. In her eyes, (and my father, I’m sure) I will always be a failure. Despite these challenges, it only made me stronger. I decided to continue to further my education. While I was a Residence Hall Director at Seton Hall University, I earned my MA. Ed. After I graduated with my Masters, I chose to step out of my comfort zone and move to Florida where I became an Area Director for the Residence Life Department at the University of South Florida. This was the first time I was introduced to a College Student Affairs program (CSA).
The Resident Directors that I supervised were a part of the CSA program. Mentoring graduate students who are invested in Student Affairs was a dream come true for me. Later, I moved back to NJ and accepted a position in Judicial Affairs. I have been in NJ ever since and I am now currently the Director of Student Engagement at Rutgers University. I had to sacrifice my family and their traditional thinking of what they viewed as successful. I have never regretted my choices to go against the “norm” of the Desi philosophy of what is acceptable and considered a prosperous way of making a living. I am successful and I will continue to be successful. I am proud to be among the Desi student affairs professionals. I may have lost my family and their support in life but I have built a stronger family not just within student affairs, but also within the Desi student affairs family.
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 <