SikhLEADers on Capitol Hill Diversity
While the dialogue about diversity on Capitol Hill intensifies—as interns pose in pictures with leadership, at networking events, and summer evening parties—five Sikh Americans discuss their experience during the summer of 2016 and the impact of SikhLEAD. #SikhsOnTheHill.
NOTE: Applications for the 2017 SikhLEAD Congressional Internship Program are open until January 30, 2017. Click here for more info.
Prabhjot Singh, Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY)
“The first defining moment of my internship was when I went to pick up my congressional ID. Circling almost half of the Cannon House Office Building, the line seemed to go on for miles. As I made my way to the back, I quickly noticed something: almost everyone was white. Yes, there were people that belonged to other communities, but there was an overwhelmingly large number of young white interns. It became clear that the only reason I was able to overcome bias and the diversity gap in this line was because of SikhLEAD. Through this simple understanding I realized that I was representing something larger than myself. I was representing Sikhi and Sikh values as a whole. My time at the capitol became more than being an intern, it became a chance to challenge the status quo about who could intern and show them that a Sikh Turbaned man is just as capable as anyone else.”
Avneet Kaur Chawla, Senate Intern
“Out of 11 interns in my office, I am one of two interns of color. Though my colleagues might not think twice about it, I am aware of it every day and forced to be an ambassador of my culture and faith. SALDEF’s SikhLEAD internship helped me get this position, and gave me the confidence to stand up to any odds stacked against me. As an intern in Senator Durbin’s Office, I am able to educate my colleagues and superiors on the Sikh religion, and bring to attention issues that Sikh-Americans like myself face. I am doing my part, but there is still a long way to go in diversifying the Hill.”
Serene Singh, Senate Intern
“I think it is important to note that even in a conservative atmosphere, a person of color — like myself — can feel completely included and welcomed. While I am the only intern of minority racial status in my office, I have come to the realization that perhaps diversity can extend beyond the physical visages of individuals in a community. In SikhLEAD, I have learned that diversity is focused around racial and ethnic representation, but is also largely about inclusivity and awareness. At my office, my fellow interns and staffers are fascinated by my culture and want to encourage my initiatives to push awareness for my community — just like my SikhLEAD class initiative for Langar on the Hill just two weeks ago. While I recognize and deeply respect the concerns brought forth about diversity and representing the nation we are serving through our DC intern class, I think we ought to also remind ourselves that “white people,” as many tweets were referencing, are not the enemy. Personally, I have seen my office incredibly excited and proud to finally have a Sikh and South Asian woman representing my home state of Colorado.”
Amaraj Singh Judge, Congressman Ami Bera (D-CA)
“It is hard to believe that even in 2016, after years of phenomenal improvement in civil rights, that we still contend with the fact that most of our legislators and the staff that supports them are Caucasian. Thankfully the gender gap has significantly reduced but the lack of people of color in congressional offices is staggering. While my day to day job remains unaffected, it is often discouraging to be unable to spot a fellow staffer of color in the crowd. I find it hard to believe that offices almost entirely stripped of all color will act in a manner that protects my best interests. I believe that the public is wising up to this inequality but seeing the process from the inside, I recognize how hard it is to place more people of color into offices given the importance connections hold in acquiring Hill positions. I think SikhLEAD has played an important part in trying to shift this paradigm. With connections to individuals on the Hill, it can be daunting and at times seemingly impossible to get a position with Congress. SALDEF has created an avenue for the young adults of the Sikh minority community to develop these relations and build connections for themselves as well as future Sikhs on the Hill.”
Jaagrit Kaur Randhawa, Senate Intern
“I work in an office with a majority of Caucasian people so I am reminded of the lack of diversity within these offices every time I take my lunch break. I notice this when I walk past African American men wearing the Architect of the Capitol uniform or when I order coffee from my Latino cashier. After encountering these diverse faces for the lunch hour, I wonder where these same faces and voices are in my briefings and hearings. Most of the interns I work with are white and headed up the ladder of success. Even though I do not fit that description, I am lucky that I have not been singled out or intentionally separated from the group for being a person of color. In this unique position, I feel a sense of pride coupled with a sense of responsibility to be a voice for a community that is seldom visible in this workplace. SikhLEAD is the reason that I am able to work alongside passionate individuals who seek to change and shape the law and policy at the federal level.”