By Jackie Bueno
With the recent #MeToo movement, I think it’s important to understand and highlight figures on campus that are actively working to keep the #MeToo movement rampant on a school-wide level, especially on a campus as renowned and large as UC Berkeley. With that said, Nidhi Chandra is someone who I deeply respect and am highlighting this week because of her work in the Student Advocates Office (SAO) in the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC).
Nidhi is the Grievance Director in the Student Advocate’s Office of the ASUC. Nidhi assisted me during a really tough period in my life, where I had to seek help for a SVSH case. Nidhi’s kindness, non-judgment, and great compassion for my situation is the reason why I wanted to feature her on our blog. She is an example of what all campuses and student leaders should follow in order for us to keep the momentum of #MeToo going.
Here’s our interview:
Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.
Nidhi: I was born in India and came to the U.S. when I was six months old. I grew up in Cupertino, so it was a pretty affluent area. I grew up with a supportive family, in a neighborhood with a diverse demographic and lots of resources. I still have a strong connection to India, which I visit yearly, so it’s cool to balance my identities from India and America. Berkeley opened my eyes about other identities and certain intersections.
Jackie: How was your experience coming to America? Did it provide any hardships for you and your family?
Nidhi: Both countries have overlapping values, though there are differences in views that can come into conflict with each other. My parents represent the reconciliation of this. My parents had to adjust to the life here whereas I have spent my entire life in the US. We both had issues we had to grow on and they’ve adapted and become more amenable to things. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve been able to come to an understanding on many issues.
Jackie: Families of color often have a hard time addressing incidents of SVSH because of the stigma associated with doing so. What level of comfort did your family have talking about SVSH related issues?
Nidhi: Historically, I have not discussed these issues with my family; however, I know that they would be very open to talking about such problems should I want to discuss them in the future. I definitely have really close friends that are also Indian and also share similar sentiments where it’s difficult to breach this topic. We find community among our peers even though we may not always talk about these issues at home.
Jackie: How has working in SAO been?
Nidhi: I joined first semester freshman year. It was the first group I found on campus. It’s been incredible. We do a lot of casework and work one-on-one with people. It’s been eye-opening to see gaps between the university and administration. It’s still rewarding to help each person. On the flip side, there’s still policy issues. There’s conversations with Administration going on to address these.
All-in-all, we’re just all really like-minded. We definitely have a work hard, play hard mindset. But, it’s definitely fulfilling seeing the impact our work can have on a daily basis.
Jackie: What has been the most fulfilling part about working in SAO?
Nidhi: The cases and policy work. It’s really fulfilling to see policy work that’s started two or three years ago until this day. About three years ago, our office wrote a CACSSF proposal that would provide funding to waive fees for survivors seeking services from the Tang Center. It has been incredible to see how the project has grown in the past few years, and how we have been able to build upon that initial proposal.
Jackie: What are the biggest challenges about working in SAO?
Nidhi: Systemically, understanding the problems we face are ingrained in the infrastructure of the University and while we can change a lot in our university, there’s things that won’t change in our time. Every case we get is a result of the things we need to fix in our system. When you’re working one-on-one, it’s hard to not get affected by the person’s feelings but you can’t get so emotionally involved, or else it’s hard to do this work. My other colleagues relate to the same thing since we all do the same work, so it’s nice to have support from my colleagues.
Jackie: What do you think about all of the allegations that came out in the last year in industries such as entertainment and politics?
Nidhi: They’re horrifying. Definitely have had a lot of conversations about what these incidents mean moving forward. It’s terrible that they’ve happened. People are finally feeling empowered enough to be able to talk about these issues and feel like they’re being heard, but I hope that it’s having an impact on the community and how they treat others.
For example, the accusation against Aziz Ansari is interesting. He has spoken out before about being respectful of women and has been an ally in the Me Too movement, so it is sad and surprising that he engaged in such coercive acts. It just shows how we can say we’re allies of something but are still a reflection of the biases our system holds.
Jackie: Has #MeToo influenced the culture around SVSH at Cal?
Nidhi: I don’t think I’ve seen impacts at a schoolwide level. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about things. We’ve definitely seen people engaged in our office. It hasn’t changed anything in our office. I think it’s been more interesting on a countrywide level. People are now really into talking about their experiences.
Jackie: How can the University be more accommodating of victims/survivors of SVSH?
Nidhi: For example, there were allegations against over a dozen faculty members a few years ago. Because of these allegations, there was a new position created for a special faculty adviser to the chancellor on sexual violence/sexual harassment. The MyVoice survey is from this office. It’s the first survey that’s ever been created to talk about culture and SVSH and not just countrywide.
I think what the University’s doing is taking the right steps in the right direction. I think the #MeToo movement validates the type of work that needs to be done. I think that in other industries, sensitivity training, understanding on a personal level, how organizations view other women and evaluating their company’s practices, how organizations discriminate and hurt other women are all so important. It’s important to look at yourself internally and also outside.
Jackie: How do you think RJ can help address SVSH related issues?
Nidhi: On a campus-wide level, I know the work RJ has done is really exciting. There’s conversations going on about how RJ can be part of the conduct process and learn from altercations instead of just being punished and not really learning from them. I think I’m really excited about learning how people can learn from their mistakes and excited to see how this practice can grow.
To learn more about the Student Advocate’s Office, see this link: https://advocate.berkeley.edu
Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.