For Sophie Sidhu, associate dean of students and director of Cornell’s Asian and Asian American Center, diversity has always been an integral part of life.
“My father is from India, and my mother is Russian and English American,” she explained.
Sidhu developed a passion for diversity and community-building as an undergraduate — an interest she said continued into her graduate years and professional life thereafter.
“I went to India for the first time as a college student, and was able to see where my father came from and learn a lot more about that part of who I was,” she said.
At Hampshire College, Sidhu said she joined the multicultural center, which she called both “an empowering space for her own growth and development” and her “home away from home.”
Sidhu recalled meeting students from all different backgrounds who were also curious about “their place in society, their unique histories and how we can all work to empower one another, and really provide a space for each of our stories.”
She added that these experiences enabled her to cultivate her natural abilities as a community leader.
“My undergraduate experience really brought out my passion for identity exploration and helping others become more self-empowered, knowledgeable about who they are and inspire to carve out space for reflection and community building,” she said.
At Cornell, Sidhu said she set out to support students from many diverse multicultural and multiracial backgrounds through her position as assistant dean for diversity education and outreach.
“At that time we didn’t have an Asian and Asian American Center on campus, so a lot of that outreach was being performed by staff and faculty all over campus, who were really helping to fill the gap in the absence of a physical space,” she said.
Through her role as assistant dean, Sidhu helped shape the Tapestry program — a program for first-year and transfer students that “focuses on diversity and inclusion” — an experience she described as “incredibly meaningful.”
“[I am proud] to help students find some common ground and shared experiences and learn from one another when they first enter campus,” she said. “I’m really proud that that program continues to flourish to this day.”
Sidhu said she also co-advised a group called the Asian and Asian American Forum, student activists focused on community building, who actually advocated for the creation of the A3C.
As Associate Dean of the A3C, Sidhu said she helped develop an internship that brings together student volunteers interested in gaining identity development and joining a vibrant community.
The internship program launched last year and has since grown to about 12 students, according to Sidhu.
“Each of the students are assigned to broad areas,” she said. “Some organize a weekly social hour program that honors different cultural traditions within the Asian and Asian American community. Some work on an identity-based workshop series that utilizes student facilitators who are taking coursework within the Asian American Studies program.”
Diversity on college campuses is growing every year, and it is a “reflection of our society at large and the good work that Cornell is doing to attract and create a more diverse student body,” Sidhu said.
Despite the improvement, she said there is still work to be done in terms of integrating minority students into the Cornell community.
“As our student body continues to become more diverse, the urgency of promoting values of diversity and inclusion and authentic forms of engagement becomes all the more important for our entire community to embrace,” she said.