Five Questions With Jasjit Singh
Executive Director, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund@saldef
Dedication to the empowerment of Sikh Americans has been a cause close to Jasjit Singh for many years. While a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jasjit founded the Sikh Student Association to build a community of support for members of his faith tradition. Today, he leads the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, or SALDEF, the oldest civil rights and education organization advocating on behalf of Sikh Americans. An influential voice building awareness of the Sikh tradition in the United States, Jasjit credits the friends he made and leadership opportunities he had while in college with greatly shaping who he is today.
We are inspired by Jasjit’s commitment to increasing equality and understanding for Sikh Americans, and wanted to ask him five questions about how his college journey influenced his role as a community leader today. Here’s what he had to say.
1. Can you tell us where you went to college and what you studied?
I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studied management information systems. I found a mix of business and technology best suited my interest and skills. I figured it would open all kinds of opportunities to me and with some real-world experience I could figure out what I really wanted to do.
2. How did your college experience impact you?
My college experience was greatly shaped by the people who would later become my closest friends. Many of them turned out to be international students (perhaps they thought I was one!). They were all highly motivated in their respective fields and very serious about their careers. But it was the long conversations we routinely had—unrelated to our classes—that would leave a lasting impression on me. The conversations spanned a wide array of topics from politics to religion and I learned a great deal from the group’s divergent opinions. Looking back on it, those interactions were key in opening my mind and challenging my beliefs.
3. Was there a time when you stumbled in college and were able to recover? How did you overcome the difficulty?
I stumbled often but most notably with an economics course, which I had to repeat in my final summer. It was quite a stressful situation because I had received a job offer from my top choice and I was worried that my bout with senioritis might have put the whole thing in jeopardy. I ended up re-taking the class before my job started and did much better (couldn’t do worse!). It did take a lot more studying than my first effort and it caused lots of unnecessary stress, but I learned a lot from the struggle.
4. What advice would you give to AAPI students on balancing volunteer and advocacy work with academics while in college?
It’s important to be involved in the issues that matter to you at every stage of your life. Working on community issues can give you inspiration and it can also provide you with practical leadership opportunities. When I founded the Sikh Student Association on my campus, I was just looking for a way to connect with other people of my faith tradition. Looking back, the experience gave me my first exposure to building a team and setting goals. Also, the experience of managing competing priorities is one of the most important skills that you can practice while in college.
5. What inspires you to create change in your community?
I am inspired regularly by the resilience of community members who face hardship but choose strength over despair and positivity over animosity. A young Sikh child who has their turban pulled off by a bully or a mother who has to make the false choice between her articles of faith and her job. These stories remind me that there is much work to be done but I am grateful that I am in a position to help.
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About the “Five Questions With…” Blog Series
The “Five Questions With…” blog series—presented by the “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign—features the stories of students, public officials, business professionals, entertainers, and other notable Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders. These individuals are sharing their experiences in higher education to help inspire today’s generation of AAPI students to reach for success.
About the “We’re the Changing Face of America” Campaign
The “We’re the Changing Face of America” campaign is a national public awareness effort dedicated to increasing access and completion among Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students, the fastest-growing student population in U.S. colleges and universities. Launched in March 2013 by the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) and the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE)—the leading AAPI student- and research-focused organizations, respectively—the campaign works through strategic partnerships to help ensure that access and success challenges experienced by the AAPI student population do not continue. The campaign supports the Partnership for Equity in Education through Research project, which works to improve educational outcomes for AAPI students.
What five questions would you ask AAPI leaders about their college experience? Let us know in the comments section below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!
To read more “Five Questions With…” blog interviews or for more information, click here.