YLI Reflections: Shifting South Asian Spaces with Sahana

At this moment in the history of South Asians in the United States, we cannot afford to be complicit. We must mobilize in solidarity with other marginalized communities. The recent detainment of immigrant rights activist leader Ravi Ragbir demonstrates that those who stand up against injustice in our communities are the first to be targeted by this violent, xenophobic, racist administration. We can be reminded by Ravi’s release of the power of our communities, and the ways in which we can use our bodies, minds, and privilege to resist oppressive regimes like the Trump Administration.

At the Young Leaders Institute (YLI), I learned about the resilience of South Asian and Muslim communities. For over a century, Muslim and Sikh communities in the United States, as well as in South Asia, have been surveilled and targeted by Islamophobic and anti-Sikh institutions. South Asian feminist facilitators like Dr. Maha Hilal, Darakshan Raja, and Noor Mir reminded me of the importance of intersectional work that centers the community’s most marginalized groups and interrogates all systems of power.

Despite what misleading data on Asian & Pacific Islanders in the United States suggest, South Asians are an incredibly diverse group of people with a multitude of positionalities. South Asians need not be homogenous to stand, work, and fight in solidarity with one another. Rather, we must do the labor of listening and understanding each others’ unique experiences and histories in order to be a true community.

For my YLI project, I focused my energies on building South Asian spaces on my college campus, the Claremont Colleges, dedicated intersectional South Asian activism. Four years ago, there was no space on campus for South Asians to explore questions of identity and positionality in meaningful ways. Because of the tireless efforts of a single South Asian student, Jincy Varughese, a one-person committee called Desi Table was created just three years ago. Since then, SAMP, a mentorship program for South Asian first-years and transfers has launched, and the Committee for South Asian Voices (formerly Desi Table) has put on several events, now with 10 devoted members. Genealogies like this one inspired me to continue pushing this work forward for my YLI project.

This year, the Committee for South Asian Voices has put on events to explore queer South Asian stories, the caste system and the Indian state, NGOization and gender in India, the Rohingya refugee crisis, Indo-Caribbean histories, processing South Asians in media, diasporic histories, and interpersonal violence in South Asian communities. Alongside the department for Feminist Gender Sexuality Studies at Scripps College, Equality Labs, and several other campus groups and departments, Professor Piya Chatterjee and I were able to bring Dalit rights activist Cynthia Stephen to campus. Cynthia’s visit was an incredible intervention to push all of us to think more deeply about Brahmanical patriarchy, Dalit-Black solidarities, and the constant resistance of Dalit people. Cynthia’s visit was part of her Dalit History Month tour, coordinated in partnership with Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs. For our final two workshops of the year, we partnered with South Asian Network (SAN), an organization committed to providing crucial services for South Asians in Southern California, and to creating community spaces.

Inspired by the work of Jahajee Sisters, the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, Desis Rising Up & Moving, and so many others, we are following in deep traditions of South Asian activism in the United States. Whenever I feel lost or wonder why I do this work, histories of South Asian resistance remind me that I am right where I belong, within and alongside community.

To learn more about Equality Labs, click here.
To learn more about South Asian Network, click here.
To learn more about ASATA, click here.
To learn more about DRUM, click here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States. Our ultimate vision is dignity and full inclusion for all.

YLI 2018-2019 FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions | Young Leaders Institute 2018- 2019

What is SAALT?

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization that fights for racial justice and advocates for the civil rights of all South Asians in the United States. Our ultimate vision is dignity and full inclusion for all.

SAALT is the only national, staffed South Asian organization that advocates around issues affecting South Asian communities through a social justice framework. SAALT’s strategies include advocating for just and equitable public policies at the national and local level; strengthening grassroots South Asian organizations as catalysts for community change; and informing and influencing the national dialogue on trends impacting our communities. To learn more about SAALT, please visit www.saalt.org.

What is the Young Leaders Institute?

SAALT’s Young Leaders Institute is a unique opportunity for 15–20 young leaders in the US to explore issues that affect South Asian American communities; engage in peer exchange; hone leadership skills; and learn strategies and approaches to social change. The 2017–2018 Institute will be the sixth time this annual leadership development program will be hosted by SAALT.

Who can apply for the Young Leaders Institute?

U.S. undergraduate students and other young adults 17–22 years of age interested in creating change among South Asian Americans on their campuses or in their communities. SAALT welcomes applications from young leaders who are not enrolled in academic institutions. We also accept applicants from all types of academic institutions including universities, colleges, community colleges, vocational trainings, etc. Applications of young adults who are older and/or in graduate school will also be accepted and considered.

Why is the Young Leaders Institute important?

SAALT is committed to the leadership development and support of young adults as agents of progressive change among South Asians in the US. The Institute encourages participants to explore their current leadership qualities, challenge themselves to evolve their leadership skills, learn from fellow young leaders, and commit to advancing social justice in real ways on their campus and in their community.

What is the 2018–2019 theme?

The 2018-2019 Young Leaders Institute theme is “Community Defense.” Since our last election cycle, communities of color across the U.S. have experienced an increase in anti-immigrant and racial violence. Policies have been enacted that remove Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for over 300,000 individuals, including Nepal; end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program placing 800,000 young immigrants, including at least 23,000 Indian and Pakistani youth, in uncertain status; increased “silent raids” against immigrants; and ban immigration from several Muslim majority countries. The policies are fueled by as well as encourage violence against those most vulnerable to their impact, particularly South Asians.

As we enter the midterm election cycle, our communities are expected to experience a surge in anti-immigrant policies and hate violence. Those most vulnerable within the South Asian community include working class, undocumented, Muslim, Sikh, and caste oppressed groups. It is imperative to learn from our experiences of not just the past election cycle but the long standing history of racism and xenophobia in the U.S. We must create community defense systems through civic engagement that at the heart protect our community from harm and deportation from this country. It must anticipate needs as well as incorporate long term and short term offensive strategies.

The 2018-2019 cohort will identify strategies and craft projects to support those highly impacted at their academic institutions and/or local South Asian communities. We encourage projects that center and uplift undocumented, working class and poor, Muslim, Sikh, and caste oppressed groups. All projects should also incorporate a civic engagement and social media campaign component.

What is civic engagement?

The Institute theme folds in a critical civic engagement component. Civic engagement is defined for the current purposes by an interest and willingness by individuals, residents, and constituents to engage with decision-makers, stakeholders, and peers (appointed and elected, campus-based and external) as well as decision-making processes to make their voices, opinions, and priorities heard. Civic engagement is not limited to or predicated upon activities or efforts that involve voting or the voting process, or U.S. citizens (who are generally, apart from some exceptions, the only individuals who can vote in the U.S.). At its essence, civic engagement is defined as individuals who choose to organize themselves and others toward collective action to weigh in, engage, and voice their opinions on how to address pressing issues that need to be improved, replicated, or addressed in their community.

For the purposes of campus-based projects around addressing and building community defense systems in South Asian and campus communities, civic engagement can involve a variety of actions. Please note, the following are examples only. Applicants are encouraged to submit their own innovative and creative project ideas, including but not limited to projects that promote civic engagement through art!

  • Organizing students to partner with local community-based organizations on problematic local, state, or national policies criminalizing immigrants and people who are undocumented.
  • Building coalition with student organizations of color to establish an Equity Advisor position in student government that works with the administration to create and implement equitable policies and practices on campus.
  • Raising concerns with the campus administration and shifting institutional practices and campus police compliance with policies that disproportionately target immigrants and people who are undocumented.
  • Train student organizations to support immigrant and undocumented peers in crisis and build campus coalitions to support institutional culture change.
  • Organizing a speak-out for students to voice how they see anti-immigrant and xenophobic practices & sentiment manifest on their campuses and in the actions of administrators.
  • Organizing letter-writing or postcard campaigns in support of incarcerated immigrants, particularly those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
  • Hosting forums/ town halls for campus community members to share their experiences of academic institution policies that are anti-immigrant and discuss how to advocate for change.
  • Advocate for and establish a support center for immigrant and undocumented students.
  • Supporting local organizing efforts to institute legislation that advances immigrant justice such as hate-free zones, anti-racist training for law enforcement, and prohibitions on racial profiling. A strong example from within our NCSO is DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) supporting the creation of Hate Free Zones, building relationships between individuals, organizations, and businesses to “defend communities from workplace raids, deportations, mass criminalization, violence, and systemic violation of [their] rights and dignity.”
  • Create a campus wide artistic display that addresses an anti-immigrant policy specific to your institution.

Note: Competitive applications will reflect detailed project proposals that include identifying campus or community groups that work with South Asian and/or other marginalized immigrant populations and develop a strategy for a civic engagement project in collaboration with that group.

How does the Institute work?

The Young Leaders Institute requires full participation in the following commitments:

  • On-site 3-day intensive training in the Washington, DC metro area on July 25–27, 2018
  • Creation of a project addressing community defense through civic engagement on your campus or in your community that meet specific education/awareness and social change objectives
  • Completion of campus or community projects by April 30, 2019
  • Monthly group report-back, peer exchange, and support calls (August–November; February–April)
  • Completion of written report-back, program evaluation, and additional requested materials

What is your graduation policy?

Participants must be able to commit to and fulfill all above requirements in order to graduate from the Institute. Participants who complete all requirements will be considered 2018–2019 Young Leaders Institute Fellows and have the opportunity to further engage with SAALT’s work.

SAALT recognizes that many young leaders have work, family, and other important obligations that may be connected to income, health, and so forth. SAALT is committed to working with each young leader accepted into the program to support their fulfillment of commitments or to work together on alternatives in the event of extenuating circumstances.

Why do I want to be a 2018–2019 Young Leaders Institute Fellow?

Participants will develop leadership skills; understand key issues affecting South Asian American communities in a social change context; and connect their campus and community with South Asian organizations and leaders. A few examples of the work of fellows after graduating from the Institute:

  • Served as an AmeriCorps Public Allies program at the Florida Immigrant Coalition
  • Served as a summer intern at SAALT and various South Asian organizations
  • Organized campus workers to fight for living wages
  • Organized a multi-lingual health resource fair for  immigrant community members
  • Hosted an arts showcase uplifting immigrant narratives
  • Completed an anthology highlighting the experiences of queer Desis in the US

How does the Institute support diversity?

The 2018 Institute encourages applicants diverse in ethnicity, country of origin, immigration status, socioeconomic status, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, and religion.

How much does this cost? What does SAALT provide?

SAALT will provide the following to accepted candidates:

  • Round trip air, train, or bus fare to the July 25-27 on-site training. Mode of transportation will depend on your departure point and will be chosen by SAALT (round-trip fare is restricted to traveling from a city to DC and returning to the same city).
  • Hotel accommodation (shared room) for the nights of July 25, 26, and 27
  • On-site training from July 25-27
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner on July 25 and 26; breakfast and lunch on July 27
  • Monthly group calls for report backs, peer exchange, and support
  • All other expenses, such as public transportation and taxi fares, additional meals or activities, and extended hotel stay are the participant’s responsibility

How do I apply? What is the application deadline?

Interested applicants should review information about SAALT, the Institute, and complete an application.

All applications should:

  • Record responses directly into the Word document application
  • Be submitted as one PDF document
  • Saved as “Name of Applicant_2018YLIApplication”

Submit completed applications to Almas Haider at almas@saalt.org by May 29th, 2018.

Only final candidates will be contacted directly. If you have any questions regarding YLI or your application before May 25th, 2018, contact almas@saalt.org or 301.270.1855.

What does a competitive application look like?

A competitive application will demonstrate:

  • An interest in effecting progressive change on a college campus or community.
  • Reflect a commitment to building community defense systems through civic engagement in the South Asian American and ally community.
  • Include ideas about realistic, scaled projects to enact this change and have the initiative, commitment, and resourcefulness to implement those ideas.
  • Include a social media campaign and/or component in their project plan.
  • A willingness to share experiences and learning from trainers and peers.
  • Seek to connect their projects with a member organization of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO) wherever possible. SAALT does realize that because capacity and South Asian populations vary greatly across the country, an NCSO organization may not be in or near an applicant’s city of residence and will take this into account.

Application for the 2018-19 Young Leaders Institute is now closed. Check back for more updates soon.