Arjun Gadkari, De Anza Student Government Leader, on Learning to Love his Community
Arjun Gadkari has always had a passion for focusing on issues of injustice, even if those issues didn’t always affect him directly.
“Since childhood, I had been learning about social issues and was aware of things happening in other parts of the world,” he said, “like how capitalism was causing a culture that was not healthy.”
Until recently, however, issues of socioeconomic injustice were often intangible for him, something he understood from, in his words, “a very abstract point of view.”
“I grew up upper-middle class and came to De Anza with a lot of passion and knowledge but no real exposure to issues or hands-on experience,” he said. That all changed in college, however, when he was introduced to the student group, Students for Justice Club, which in turn introduced him to the Leadership and Social Change (LSC) Certificate Program at De Anza.
“The Certificate Program is not just a set of classes. It’s a community hub and a way to connect with this network of passionate, engaged leaders.”
“My introduction to the Certificate Program percolated through the amazing community of activists on campus,” Arjun said. “I became connected to [the program] when I joined the Students for Justice Club as part of a civic participation requirement for an American Politics class. Through this network, I heard about the Certificate Program.”
As part of the LSC Certificate program, Arjun enrolled in Cynthia Kaufman’s “Critical Consciousness and Social Change” class, where he began to develop social change tools and vocabulary. “I learned about social movements, organizing skills, and emotional intelligence. But what really drew me in was that the Certificate Program is not just a set of classes, it’s a community hub and a way to connect with this network of passionate engaged leaders who discuss issues and feed off of one another.”
Last year, along with other student leaders from LSC, Arjun helped organize a new coalition of students, known as BRAVE (Boldly Representing and Advocating for Values of Empowerment) that ran for the De Anza Associated Student Body (DASB) Senate. Through this campaign, Arjun was elected as Student Trustee. He notes this campaign was heavily influenced by skills and knowledge he and his fellow classmates picked up through the LSC Certificate program.
“We took what we were learning in the Certificate program—about social justice; race, class, and gender; non-violent communication—and infused it into the coalition. Running with that coalition was incredible—we ran as a team and strategized, planned, and reached out to students together.”
“This year, we are more unified and have real conversations with each other about social justice issues and the work we are doing with each other. We use language that’s not oppressive or triggering. It’s been a very cohesive experience.”
This coalition then looked to incorporate what they had learned through the certificate program into the DASB. “Once in DASB, we were very hands on in working for equity and looking for ways to make it easier for students who are struggling financially,” Arjun. As an example, Arjun noted outreach he and his fellow student leaders in DASB conducted to local businesses, including I Heart Bento and Ike’s Place, to secure student discounts.
“We’ve been very intentional about social justice,” Arjun continued. “I helped facilitate a training for the Senate on non-violent communication and emotional intelligence. That has completely changed the dynamic. Last Senate, we had some tension. This year, we are more unified and have real conversations with each other about social justice issues and the work we are doing with each other. We use language that’s not oppressive or triggering. It’s been a very cohesive experience.”
Arjun’s experience with student leadership, he says, has changed him for the better. “This experience at DeAnza is the foundation of my life,” he said. “The relationships with the people in the Certificate Program and the work I’ve done in the community have given me a huge sense of love for the people around me, the place that I live in, and the work that we all do together.”
As an example of the impact the Certificate program has had, Arjun noted a class he enrolled in, called “the Geographies of Identity,” taught by Cassandra Blume. The hands-on experience provided by the course, he says, was inspiring.
“We went around South Bay neighborhoods, took pictures, looked at the history, and interviewed neighbors,” Arjun said. “It gave me a sense of stewardship toward where I live and a better sense of why things are the way they are here and why I need to keep fighting here.”
Arjun has worked to incorporate the leadership community and organizing skills he learned through the LSC Program in other creative ways as well. “I founded the De Anza Sustainability Alliance (DASA), a chapter of the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC), and I have been President of the organization since it began in October 2014,” he says, noting that DASA started the “Ban the Bottle” De Anza campaign. “We work to create consciousness and shift policy toward a sustainable future,” he said. Recently, he and DASA organized and hosted the Spring 2016 CSSC Convergence, a biannual gathering of over 100 student environmental activists and advocates from across California.
“Up until this program, I hadn’t felt attached to the place I live. Now, I know this is what I love, these are the people I love, and I want to stay here.”
Arjun also maintains that the Certificate program provided him an opportunity to engage with a community in a new and fulfilling way. “Up until this program, I hadn’t felt attached to the place I live,” Arjun said, noting he is originally from Portland, Oregon. “Now I know this is what I love, these are the people I love, and I want to stay here.”
This Fall, Arjun will be transferring to UC Berkley to earn a B.S. in Society and Environment with an emphasis in US Environmental Policy and Management. He then plans to come back and work in city or county government. “I want to help structure this city in ways that are healthy, safe, and just,” he said.