Spotlight: Priyal Gandhi
Neuroscience Major & Women, Gender, and Sexuality Minor
What inspired you to get involved with the Indian Student Association?
My first year I found some upperclassmen mentors who encouraged me to try for the First Year Liaison position on the ISA Exec Board. Through that I met a whole network of amazing upperclassmen mentors and friends and the ability to connect with a lot of different people in my class. So I decided to run for President of ISA because I wanted to give back to a community which really gave me a good sense of belonging.
What is it like being a minority student at UVA?
I did this really interesting activity in Sustained Dialogue once where they made us map out UVA and write which identities were most salient in those areas. And prior to creating that map, I hadn’t realized how specific spaces make me feel more aware of my minority status. So I think it really depends on where you are. For example, I teach refugees English on the third floor of O-Hill Dining Hall and there my identity as someone who is socioeconomically more privileged is very evident. And then I go somewhere like my WGS classes or Clark or Clem or Alderman and the feeling I have of being a minority student is very different depending on how many other students of color are around.
“Prior to creating that map [of Grounds], I hadn’t realized how specific spaces make me feel more aware of my minority status.”
What is it like being a minority leader at UVA?
Being a minority leader and being elected into these executive board positions means you have the power and privilege to leverage your authority to improve systems at UVA for other minority students. So it is sometimes very difficult for minority leaders because UVA students place more value on “it” organizations like Honor and Guides while the value placed on cultural organizations is not as evident. I’m lucky to be a part of ISA which is one of the largest cultural organization on grounds. But I’ve been in meetings with for example, really small Asian organizations that do incredible work and are equally, if not more, invested in their missions, but they are just inherently less valued and less respected by their peers.
“A lot of minority students self-weed-out for lawn rooms, don’t apply to be Resident Advisers or Orientation Leaders, etc. because they feel that they don’t match a specific type of mold.”
What is the greatest challenge facing the minority community today? How can we overcome this challenge?
The overall membership of the minority community – and not all, because there are many amazing leaders working hard to enact meaningful change – is extremely apathetic and resigned and comfortable with the status quo. And some of that comes from just being uniformed. It’s not that people don’t care, they just don’t understand how certain things will impact them. Additionally, a lot of minority students self-weed-out for lawn rooms, don’t apply to be RAs or OLs, etc. because they feel that they don’t match a specific type of mold. And it’s extremely unfortunate because much of this resignation comes from the lack of recognition that minority organizations receive for their work. For example, I go to the competitions of culturally and ethnically based club sports like dance teams, where these students train 12-20 hours a week, scream UVA at the top of their lungs, and put in all their efforts. But then they come back to UVA and it is unfortunate when their work goes unrecognized. Overcoming this resignation to the status quo involves getting people engaged and active and aware of the existing systems that might be pitched against them. So I loved the Town Hall, I thought that was great.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to other minority students at UVA?
There is nothing wrong with being heavily involved in a cultural/minority organization. It does not mean that it is your only identity. And it does not mean that just because you share a part of your identity with these other people that all of a sudden you’re all the same, that you’re some homogeneous group. Join a minority organization to learn more about people who have something in common with you. Get active in these organizations and then leverage what you’ve done for this university within these communities in the way you talk to others and write your applications. Because even though you are not always getting recognized for your hard work, you’re doing important and amazing things.
“There is nothing wrong with being heavily involved in a cultural/minority organization. It does not mean that it is your only identity. And it does not mean that just because you share a part of your identity with these other people that all of a sudden you’re all the same, that you’re some homogeneous group.”