When I think about renovation and construction projects—the focus of this special print edition of The Bulletin–—the inevitability of timelines, budgets, meetings upon meetings, and then maneuvering operations around all that, it can become a daunting landscape. But isn’t it also an opportunity, a chance for a reset, even anew beginning?
Whether it’s a fresh coat of paint, new lighting, transformation of a space, or the creation of an entirely new building, improvements, no matter the scale, afford opportunities for revitalization, renewed expectation, and anticipation. It’s in that new beginning, that invigorated sense of hope and opportunity, where the space for authenticity can be reimagined. After all, that what it’s all about, right? Whether it’s a space or a place, a person or a team, a program or an event, if it’s not authentic you risk the opposite—coming off as disingenuous, as spiritless, as an imitation.
My parents and brother immigrated to the United States in the early 1980s and when I joined the family, much of our lives were filled with balancing the identities of two cultures—Indian and American. Our parents spent most of my brother’s and my childhood sharing, educating, and preserving our Indian heritage with us, while also embracing the American culture we are now a part of. My life has been filled with celebrating Diwali and Navaratri while also learning about Christmas and Easter. I sang in choirs at churches while also singing Indian classical music. When it came to college, I was incredibly surprised how these two worlds suddenly collided.
Prior to college, my Indian friends were my weekend friends, and my non-Indian friends were my school friends, so it was somewhat shocking to me when I realized that these two worlds could coexist. I took this new space as an opportunity to further embrace my Indian culture, but it was also a place, for the first time, that I would meet so many people from different parts of the world. I vividly recall being asked at one point to create a vision statement focused on creating spaces and environments where people could feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves. Think of it today as a renovation or construction project to build engagement, to house trust, to share what is original and genuine about each of us. I didn’t know it then, but this is where my love for student affairs would begin.
It has always been important to seek out spaces where I could show up as my authentic self, and then to recognize the importance of others being able to do the same. Becoming the first Indian American president of ACUI is a significant pride point for me, but know that it also heightens my sense of responsibility to ensure others see themselves in the communities they are a part of. During my tenure as president of ACUI I hope I can inspire others to chart their own paths to be represented in, to be authentic in, to be invigorated in the communities we are each a part of. Just like working on that vision statement toward creating authentic spaces set me on a course for a life in student affairs, I am here today to support others toward their aspirations, their vision, their journey.
The last two years have greatly impacted the work that we do, and thanks to our skillsets we have reimagined spaces for students to connect, engage, and gather safely. We were asked to coordinate and host major events to help move our communities through this pandemic, and yes, we succeeded. We created healing spaces to lift our communities up amidst injustice and discrimination that has been occurring through a period of unparalleled and exhausting challenges, yet this time has provided us with opportunities for creativity, for innovation, and for examining our authentic selves.
In this edition of The Bulletin you will learn about some meditative and reflective practices being used at the University of Maryland–College Park and other campuses that we hope opens a window for exploring and assessing similar opportunities within your campus community. Another piece examines how an interactive social learning project—Hostile Terrain 94—has made its way across the U.S. and found a particularly relevant home at many of our student unions, underscoring how our “living rooms” are truly the crossroads for education, introspection, and social justice to occur in one space.
As we move toward a new semester as many challenges from the pandemic still linger, let us take every opportunity to share our genuineness, our authenticity, as individuals and as a community, and to inspire, to engage, and to reconnect. It may require some “renovation” of how we see ourselves and our spaces; we may have to “construct” some new paths toward success, but these are tests and trials the ACUI community has prospered through before. Working together, I have no doubt we will continue to prosper.