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.

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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.