The Law Weekly reached out to affinity group leaders to write for us in a feature we are calling “Spotlight.” Our goal is to give leaders a regular platform to start conversations about issues they are facing, to reflect on the events of August 11th and 12th, and to educate the UVa Law community about their diverse experiences so that we can become better allies to our fellow classmates.
If you or your organization would like to be featured, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
Shruthi Prabhu (she/her/hers) '19
“Diversity” and “inclusion” are buzzwords I personally was privileged enough to never worry about growing up. Law school changed that. Here at UVa Law, those two words have a robust presence, involving themselves in career prospects and the social environment, an inevitable result of the greater social homogeneity here than that in cities many students are used to. Needless to say, it is a bit of a culture shock for some who come to a place with dissimilar demographics to home. That is where affinity groups such as SALSA, the South Asian Law Student Association, come into play.
Some people have reached out to me to ask about affinity groups have asked me whether there is a problem when it comes to diversity. My response typically consists of an anecdote in an effort to answer as honestly and candidly as possible. In my experience, I’ve found that within an educated population, racism and hurtful words are not malicious; rather, they come from a place of misunderstanding and mild ignorance.
My story is about the 1L career search. Texas, my target geographic preference, has a faster timeline than other states. Consequently, I finished my job search relatively early. I kept the news of the offer somewhat close to me, only divulging its existence to close friends or to those who specifically asked. A couple months into spring semester of 1L, I distinctly remember participating in a conversation about the job search with a group of friends. At the time, I was the only one in the group with a summer clerkship, and no one in that particular group knew that yet. One girl asked me about my summer plans and I told her the truth. Instead of normal responses, such as “congratulations,” “that’s great, good for you,” or even just saying very little and continuing the underlying conversation, her first reaction to me was, “Oh wow, I wish I was a minority.”
“I wish I was a minority.” All my hard work in classes, the networking and cold calls to land interviews with firms in Texas, the extracurricular involvements throughout the year that had led to this position had all been reduced to the color of my skin. I knew the statement was not meant to intentionally hurt me or to dismiss my accomplishments, but hurt and dismiss is exactly what it did. That statement came from ignorance, from the inability to see the countless hours I labored while maintaining a good academic and social standing in order to secure a position in my geographic preference. The worst part: I have heard similar stories before, and I will continue to hear them again until we educate about diversity and inclusion.
I cannot pretend that I have been the victim of racial injustice throughout my life. I consider myself privileged in that regard. However, this event was a slap in the face and made me realize that these problems truly do exist, even in great institutions of law. It was then that I realized the role SALSA played in my life. My community through the organization served as a sounding board for the hurt I was feeling.
The purpose of SALSA is to represent the views of South Asian American students at UVa Law. This purpose is achieved through educational, professional, cultural, and social programs. SALSA provides a forum for the discussion of those issues affecting South Asian American law students and the university community as a whole. Another aim is to help educate and inform the greater community (not just South Asian people) about issues that involve South Asian Americans, since education is one of the quickest solutions to ignorance.
During my time at UVa Law, I have found multiple homes in people and groups, and one of those homes is SALSA. Last year was the organization’s first year of existence. Spearheaded by 3Ls Maya Iyyani and Nimrah Khan with help from 3L Shanthi Rajagopalan and recent graduate Vishal Ganesan, SALSA became a way to form a South Asian community for future students to utilize as home, as well as a conduit to progress at the law school. As a 1L representative my first year working alongside these amazing individuals, and now as the president of the organization, I have been able to participate in discussions, meet like-minded students, and talk with the administration to emphasize the “inclusion” part of the buzzwords, “diversity” and “inclusion.”
The environment at UVA Law is indeed collegial, a wonderful law school where friends want friends to succeed, a place where I would hope no one would intentionally bring another down for looking different than them. My genuine hope for this organization, as well as my hope for other affinity groups, is that one day, they will not only serve as a home for those who seek peers similar to them culturally and physically, but also as an educational asset demystifying diversity and inclusion for those who would benefit from it.