Sikh community heard with new ASUSF senators

ASUSF Senate recently added two new members to its organization: freshman Akhnoor Sidhu and sophomore Jasleen Dhillion. Sidhu was elected as this year’s freshman class representative, while Dhillion successfully won her bid and received approval among Senate members for the position of Sikh Student representative. Both women identify as members of the Sikh community, which they said have inspired their advocacies and campaign. 

After initially tying with her opponent Rahul Pratap, Sidhu won the subsequent runoff election and was elected with 53.85% of the vote, according to ASUSF polling data. This year, only about 7% of the freshman class voted. A politics major, Sidhu ran her campaign on a platform of mental health advocacy, substance abuse education, and community building. “The freshman class is from different parts of the world,” Sidhu said. “To have activities or group chats to bring everyone together as a community is something I’m focusing on.”

Sidhu has spent years advocating on behalf of her community. In high school, she served in student leadership positions, and these roles led her to her own ventures. She co-founded HopeSeva, an organization which connects with young adults to educate them on drug and alcohol abuse, a message which Sidhu hopes to bring to USF. “I’m trying to do events here to help everyone stay safe and educated,” she said. 

In a June 2020 petition, she started a movement in her hometown to remove a bust of Gandhi from the California State University, Fresno campus, alleging the statue perpetuates prejudiced views towards Black people. She received over 6,000 signatures in support, but the traction did not lead to the statue’s removal.

“As a member of the Punjabi Sikh community and the South Asian community it’s very important to stand by the Black community and take down a statue of someone who has perpetuated racism,” she said in a 2020 statement to local news

Similarly to Sidhu, second-year biology major Dhillion’s advocacy is also based in her Sikh identity. Dhillion’s new role as Sikh Student Representative followed her work last semester of co-founding the Sikh Student Association at USF. Her central reason for creating the organization was to build a safe space for her community to gather.

Dhillion’s position filled one of the Senate’s four open At-Large Representatives. Students who bid for At-Large positions must present to Senate which student group they represent and obtain approval in order to be successful. Dhillion says she is excited to be a part of Senate as she did not have the opportunity to be on student government in her predominantly white high school. “When I did run for an elected position, I received a lot of hate and racial slurs,” she said. 

Dhillion took her advocacy out of the confines of school and joined her local Rotary Club in Santa Rosa, Calif., working on various community projects, such as one which connected children with their incarcerated parents. Dhillion was also involved in service work for her local temple. 

According to university data, there are 55 Sikh-identifying students at USF. As Sikh Student Representative, Dhillion plans on advocating on behalf of this community to bring representation and positive recognition. The daughter of immigrants, Dhillion said, “I’m receiving this education because of our homeland in India.” She hopes to use her platform to raise awareness for topics relating to her identity, such as India’s farm protests. 

One of Dhillion’s largest policy goals is for the Senate to pass an observation of a Sikh holiday at USF. She said if enacted, it would “make the Sikh community feel heard, loved, and appreciated.”

While Dhillion has only been a senator for a week, she said she is enjoying the fellowship with other members. “I’m already getting messages checking in to see if I need any help. Everyone is just very supportive.”

Sidhu shared a similar sentiment. After attending her first meeting, she said she admired “how involved everyone is.” Something that struck Sidhu was the nature of election week. Following the Sept. 28 runoff election, she said she was impressed with how “professional and caring” all parties were. 

Both Sidhu and Dhillion expressed excitement at the opportunity to represent the USF student body. “I was scared to run after everything in the past,” Dhillion said, “but, I’m really glad I made the decision.”

Megan Robertson is a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major. She can be reached at mrrobertson2@dons.usfca.edu or on Instagram @megrrobertson.

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