Speaking on behalf of the entire class of 2019 WLP Scholars this summer, weeks one and two of WLP succeeded in shocking, inspiring, and invigorating all of us. Orientation gave us a taste of the transformative summer to come. Passion and energy for WLP and its mission flowed through every single speaker and alumni that connected with us. They shared fond memories of their summers, as well as the importance of effective networking and professionalism. These speakers also highlighted the beauty of this family we were all now a part of. I felt supported and connected in a way that felt powerful.
Orientation gave us important skills and context for our summer, thanks to so many alumni dedicating their time to work with us and let us truly bombard them with questions. Alumni Rina Patel and Waleed Hashmi gave us the professional tips for those of us interning in agencies and on the Hill, including valuable advice on building an enriching internship experience. Sumon Dantiki was an incredible speaker for our group. In addition to sharing his wisdom and background, he facilitated an exercise where we all wrote down our public service heroes in the last 25 years, three issues in public service that we felt were the most important, as well as other questions. I really enjoyed his exercise, as we heard from every person in our cohort. I could hear the passion and love for justice and public serve from everyone’s answers, and it blew me away.
Day one ended with alum Radhe Patel’s helpful tips to tackle the intimidating beast that networking can be. That night, Suparna Reddy, another WLP alum who is extremely dedicated to working with our class, invited us all to her place for pizza, which really proved the “family” aspect of WLP. The next day, Ashwin’s workshop taught us about the value of effective policy communication and encouraged us to be reflective about the way in which we share our own stories. This exercise pushed us scholars to be vulnerable, which foundationally transformed the way that we got to know each other and deepened our bonds as a group. Orientation ended with the valuable opportunity to develop our WLP project with Riya and Suparna who helped us narrow and refine our ideas.
The next two weeks were jam packed with some of the most transformational events that I’ve ever participated in. Rina organized a panel called "Life on the Hill" with prominent South Asian Americans who are current or prior staffers. Their insights were fascinating and made me reflect on my own goals in public policy and health. Later that week, alumni Juli, Faryal, Riya hosted a relaxing Jazz in the Garden excursion and Shivam and Anmol joined us for a dinner at Spice 6 in Chinatown.
There has been a lot of buzz this year about this class being the first ALL FEMALE cohort. Many of us have been discussing what that means from the perspective of increasing representation in the public service space, but also to emphasize the importance of us being effective allies towards other communities through social justice and activism. The three speakers that we had these first two weeks really spoke to these themes. We had the privilege of sitting down with comedian, activist, and WLP alum, Hari Kondabolu. He taught all of us so much-- the importance of humility and courage in our convictions, as well as speaking truth to power. He shared his journey as a WLP Scholar and how that brought him to his time at LSE, and his work with Congresswoman Jayapal’s nonprofit in Seattle. Together, we talked about what allyship means and how to embed social justice into one’s life. Later that night, we watched him perform in Arlington Drafthouse.The WLP family in the back corner was the loudest in the audience!!! :)
Our cohort also had the opportunity to learn from two attorneys, Ruchi Jain and Ahmed Baset during our first two weeks. They shared their honest thoughts on legal careers and allowed us to ask a lot of questions about their journeys. As I am beginning graduate school in August, one thing that they mentioned really, really stuck with me. They said that as you move forward in your education, the most important thing is to remember who you are. Their emphasis on maintaining your sense of self and keeping to your core values was extremely impactful and is something that I will always hold with me.
Anisha Singh and Lakshmi Sridarn’s panel on advocacy was my favorite so far. Our cohort has had many conversations about change-making, so they gave us a breakdown on what advocacy and organizing looks like. Both of them have had such unique and insightful paths to their current roles. Anisha is the Director of Judicial Nominations at Planned Parenthood and Lakshmi is currently the Interim Co-Executive Director at SAALT. They emphasized the criticality of organizing first and building meaningful people to people interactions. I posed the question about how they maintain morale in the face of such intense political resistance to their mission for social justice and their answer astounded me.
They said that the key is to build power in the long term, as that is the commitment to the movement as a whole, rather than just responding to the attention on news cycles. Anisha said that she is often asked what the top issues for South Asian Americans are. She said that her response to that question is simple-- everything is. That spirit of allyship and solidarity with other communities is what brought me into public service to begin with. I am very privileged that my first two weeks with WLP has reignited that drive for me. Thank you to Nisha, Harin, Suparna, Joy, and all of the incredible alumni and speakers that have been foundational to provide this experience to WLP classes year after year.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services