As an Indian American, first generation college goer turned student affairs professional, I feel as though I have the distinct opportunity to speak towards the interest of professionals and students that also identify as Desi, or as persons of color. With this opportunity though, comes a burden of expectation that you are able to describe the experiences of other South Asians or other underrepresented groups. In my experience as a student affairs professional, I’ve found that this flux between opportunities to engage in useful dialogue which turn into a burden as I attempt to focus on other professional skills that I’d like to develop that do not necessarily have to do with my identity as a person of color.
The importance of diversity in the workplace, especially in our colleges and universities, is abundantly clear, which in turn creates opportunities for people of color. These opportunities have been made clear to me multiple times throughout my professional career, but not always in a positive way. In a field like higher education, where diversity and inclusion are held to certain standards, and therefore may be considered in applications process’, it is likely you have also heard something along the lines of “of course you got that position, they needed some diversity.” Which, granted, does open some doors, however, these doors have for far too long been closed for anyone that did not identify as a white, male, or straight. Because our field cares about creating a staff and faculty that represents all interests, we student affairs administrators may be told that because we look a certain way or are who we are, we are going to sometimes be granted positions that we are not necessarily the best candidates for on our resumes, but because of our identities, we gave the organization the ability to check one more box (the diversity box).
This is where these opportunities start feeling like a burden. I know I have been shamed to think I am not deserving of the position I have earned, even if by all means I was qualified. Regardless, I ended up in the role that I was meant to be in, and at this point another burden surfaces.
This burden is common to many of my fellow colleagues of color (COC’s) at my large, predominantly white institution. For example, we are asked to attend diversity trainings as to avoid an all-white panel of facilitators. Now, don’t get me wrong, I would hate to see a training occur that has a group of white administrators talking about the importance of inclusion in our organizations; however many times the curriculum and decisions about the training are not being left to the diverse faces in the room. So not only do we have to fulfill our roles, we are being asked to meet the needs of special interests groups and trainings to meet the diversity quotient that our senior administrators feel comfortable with. As the Asian American, better yet, Desi American, in the room, I tend to leave it to my other colleagues to get the ball rolling with those issues. This may stem from a desire to not question authority, which my parents, who are Indian immigrants, have instilled in me, and I am beginning to unlearn.
Sometimes these conversations that I am invited to as a COC are fruitful, which brings me back to the opportunities we have as Desi higher education professional. Given our roles as persons of color on our campus, we have the chance to bring up concerns that are happening locally at your institutions, in our communities and nationally. These spaces are so valuable for students and colleagues who are not engaging in such conversations individually or in their own spaces. Being Desi, I have learned to avoid certain topics that may not pertain to my Asian diaspora, again something I am actively attempting to unlearn. However, in the US today, given everything that is going on in different parts of various communities of color, we must continue to bring other important voices to these spaces and not allow our own desires to be heard stop us from doing so, acknowledge our own limitations as diverse professionals, and sacrifice our interests for the sake of the larger community. Having to fill these spaces as a Desi higher education professional can feel like a burden, however for students and for other communities that need more representation, it is a powerful and incredibly important opportunity to model inclusion and an actual desire to share our space, time and attention.
If this sounds nerve wracking to you as it does for me at times, I would encourage you to find individuals in your community through various networks connected to NASPA or ACPA, where conversations like this flourish. The Desi Student Affairs Collective has been a wonderful space for me to ask questions on how to do some of this work, and it has translated into some decisions that I, otherwise, would not have made.
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!
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
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