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South Asian Youth Initiative to Take Down Structures of Casteism, Anti-Blackness and Islamophobia

South Asian Youth Initiative to Take Down Structures of Casteism, Anti-Blackness and Islamophobia

Maya Shah
  • Join our virtual conference on “Solidarity, Resistance, and Radical Organizing.”

Calling all South Asians! The 2021 South Asian Youth Initiative will be held virtually on April 10th and 11th, with the theme “Solidarity, Resistance, and Radical Organizing.” With workshops such as Grassroots Organizing and Mental Health & Advocacy and panels on topics such as Sexual and Queer Organizing and South Asian Me Too Movements, SAYI 2021 will impart students with the knowledge and skills to make change in their communities at home and abroad. 

The structure of this conference will allow for participants to tackle issues facing the South Asian diaspora headfirst through candid discussion and community engagement. As the newest generation of South Asian leaders, we need to keep issues of casteism, anti-blackness, and islamophobia, amongst others, at the forefront of our minds so we can take down the structures creating these problems wherever they exist. 

Many of SAYI 2021’s events will center around transnational advocacy, inciting change in the subcontinent. Our first keynote, Christina Dhanaraj, a Dalit Feminist writer and activist, will speak on what her fight for Dalit rights has looked like in India, and how students of the diaspora can support activists fighting casteism, Hindu nationalism, land rights, and other issues afflicting South Asia. 

For far too long, this disconnect between the diaspora and South Asia has allowed human rights atrocities to go unnoticed internationally. We hope that through SAYI 2021’s programming students will become more active

Our Politics of Dissent panel, similarly, will have speakers who have spent years fighting for their rights in South Asia, and they will share firsthand what their organizing looks like, and how important it is for us to support them from abroad. For far too long, this disconnect between the diaspora and South Asia has allowed human rights atrocities to go unnoticed internationally. We hope that through SAYI 2021’s programming students will become more active and aware of how to support those causes.

Formerly known as the South Asian Millennials Conference, SAYI was created with the overarching goal of creating community amongst South Asians and South Asian-Americans from all over the U.S. while also serving as a forum for activism, discussion and solidarity. It’s currently a unique opportunity for young South Asians and South Asian-Americans in the U.S. to come together as a community.

Last year, on February 8th, 2020, the South Asian Youth Initiative held a nationwide conference for over 300 South Asian students across the country. The conference partnered with multiple non-profits doing inspiring work in the South Asian diaspora and hosted 28 speakers including both Kavita Ramdas, a globally recognized women’s rights activist, and Rohini Kosoglu, Chief of Staff to Senator Kamala Harris (now Madam Vice President!). SAYI 2020 also organized a series of workshops on mental health, gender violence, and arts and expressions, the first national town hall for South Asian students, an innovation challenge, and the launch of a national network for South Asian college students and activists. 

“[T]here is a powerful and continually growing South Asian voice within America. Students are the next generation of this voice, and a conference provides them with the necessary forum to learn how to wield it,” says Swathi Kella, SAYI 2020 participant

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Although the conference this year will be held virtually, it awards the opportunity to provide even more exciting programming events. For example, this year, SAYI will use the Icebreakers platform to pair people up randomly or based on identities they associate with (LGBTQ+, International Student, First-Generation, etc.). On the platform, the pair will be asked questions about the conference or fun questions to get to know each other. Aside from socializing with new students, SAYI will also offer a chance to network with South Asian leaders from different career backgrounds through the Career Fair on April 2nd.

Be sure to register today at tinyurl.com/SAYI2021 to join the South Asian community on April 10th-11th.


Maya Shah (she/her/hers) is a sophomore at Yale University from Mount Olive, New Jersey. She is currently studying applied mathematics but is interested in exploring psychology. Maya participated as a first-year liaison from SAS in last year’s SAYI conference and was able to help with planning and executing the conference. She is excited to work as co-director with Saket and hopes to make the experiences from the conference long-lasting and impactful. She hopes that participants find it more interactive and that the conference creates friendships across colleges.

Saket Malhotra (he/him/his) is a sophomore at Yale University from Chandler, Arizona, studying Ethnicity, Race, and Migration. He is excited to co-direct SAYI 2021 with Maya! He hopes to make this next conference educational and impactful for all of our attendees. One of his goals is to emphasize the “initiative” part of South Asian Youth Initiative. He wants to make SAYI a space where students will gain the skills and inspiration to start new and unique projects and have a strong impact on their communities.

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