Harvard South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) members.
The Harvard South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) is dedicated to the advancement and visibility of the South Asian community at Harvard Law School. The group strengthens dialogue and connections through a variety of formats: discussions, lectures, panels, film screenings and social events. The Mittal Institute spoke with co-presidents Rosie Kaur and Vandana Apte about SALSA and its role on campus.
Mittal Institute: Rosie and Vandana, what drew you to join – and then ultimately lead – SALSA?
Rosie Kaur: I initially joined SALSA in search of a community of people who understood me. Being South Asian in the legal space is a very particular experience, and this organization holds the immense power to foster community understanding and love. Recognizing that power, I wanted to take on a leadership role within SALSA to really take our strength and potential to the next level.
As a Punjabi-Sikh American, I have often entered South Asian spaces feeling a lack of inclusiveness and a lack of recognition of the power and privilege that different South Asian groups can hold. At an elite institution like Harvard, this can be a particularly significant problem. As part of the SALSA leadership, I want to ensure Harvard’s South Asian community is inclusive; is not complicit in anti-Blackness; works in solidarity with other communities of color; is vocal in the broader Asian-American community; and encourages thoughtful conversations about our role as South Asians politically and socially. It is crucial that the Board is representative of different South Asian backgrounds to truly accomplish this goal.
I want to ensure Harvard’s South Asian community is inclusive; is not complicit in anti-Blackness; works in solidarity with other communities of color; is vocal in the broader Asian-American community; and encourages thoughtful conversations about our role as South Asians politically and socially.
Vandana Apte: I joined SALSA because it is the only space on the Harvard Law School (HLS) campus where South Asian students can commiserate, share their common experiences, and engage in South Asian cultural traditions. When school was virtual, I felt that the sense of community among South Asians at HLS was lacking. I wanted to lead this organization to rebuild this sense of community and provide a space for South Asian law students to build camaraderie.
Vandana Apte (left) and Rosie Kaur (right), SALSA co-presidents.
Mittal Institute: Why is it so important to have a forum at HLS for those interested in South Asian society and legal issues? What makes it a unique student group?
Rosie Kaur: SALSA is a unique student group because it is the only place at Harvard that brings together resources and funding for the purpose of benefiting South Asians. There is a lot that is still missing on Harvard’s campus to really make it a place that fosters South Asian dialogue and inclusiveness: more South Asian professors, South Asian law classes, and events and recognition of our identity on this campus. SALSA has the unique opportunity to advocate for what is missing and to continue to push the bounds of what it means to take up space at Harvard.
Vandana Apte: It is important to have a forum at HLS for those interested in South Asian issues, as there are very few other avenues to explore and discuss such issues on campus. Many other classes are focused almost exclusively on United States law. Even when there are classes or spaces that explore diversity issues, South Asian issues are rarely discussed, perhaps because the narrative has been that Asians are well-represented in the legal field. In reality, South Asians remain underrepresented in many areas of the legal profession (for instance, in judicial clerkships). Therefore, it is really important to have a space on campus to discuss issues specifically affecting the South Asian community.
South Asians remain underrepresented in many areas of the legal profession . . . it is really important to have a space on campus to discuss issues specifically affecting the South Asian community.
Mittal Institute: You coordinate a variety of events each academic year to encourage conversation on South Asia. Which events or initiatives are you most proud of?
Rosie Kaur: I agree with Vandana that the initiative I am most proud of is the conversation we facilitated around our shared, and distinct, experiences as South Asians at HLS. Being South Asian at an elite institution like Harvard can sometimes be an isolating experience, especially when the school curriculum generally does not engage South Asian experiences or problems, so it was particularly important to be able to have a conversation with my peers about how they feel being South Asian at HLS; how their backgrounds have led them to this point; and how we can address our role, both from a place of adversity and of privilege, to really make change in the legal profession.
Vandana Apte: SALSA coordinates a variety of events every year. The pinnacle of these events was probably the SALSA retreat in October, and this is probably the event that I’m most proud of, as it required a great deal of planning. We facilitated conversations during which we shared our lived experiences as South Asians at HLS. Between those deep conversations and spending the weekend together as a group, I felt like our sense of community as South Asian law students really solidified at the retreat.
SALSA 2022-23 board.
Mittal Institute: How has your involvement in SALSA influenced your future career goals – what do you intend to do upon graduation from HLS?
Rosie Kaur: My South Asian heritage is what inspired me to go into the legal field in the first place. Witnessing the discrimination my South Asian community has faced, and their resilience, resolve and ability to put forth efforts to make change through the law inspires me. My involvement in SALSA has further solidified my desire to ensure South Asians are part of the conversation around social impact work in the legal space.
Vandana Apte: I will likely be working at a law firm doing patent litigation post-graduation. My participation in SALSA has encouraged me to pursue involvement in local South Asian bar associations. My passion for helping the South Asian community will also influence the pro-bono work I take on at any law firm. For instance, I am currently a student attorney in the family practice at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, and my involvement in SALSA has pushed me to forge relationships with South Asian community partners in the Greater Boston area.
Mittal Institute: How have you grown your membership at HLS? How can our readers become involved or learn more?
Rosie Kaur: Along with increasing engagement opportunities among our South Asian members through more academic, professional, and social events, we have sought out intentional conversations with Harvard Admissions and Harvard Law Dean, John Manning, to reach out to and recruit more South Asian students. Further, we advocate for our administration to think critically, not only about the quantity of South Asian students admitted, but also about the national, ethnic and religious diversity within this group. The number of students who are present and active in SALSA has increased significantly this year, and I hope to see it continue to grow as the powerful, diverse, and loving community it is.
Vandana Apte: The SALSA GroupMe last year was 58 people. It is now 104. I think we have made a large effort to include LLM students in SALSA. Because many of these students are international and grew up in South Asia, they have interesting perspectives to add to the SALSA conversations and have become a really critical part of our SALSA community. Readers can message firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the GroupMe and newsletter. We welcome all South Asians at Harvard to join! (We frequently do events with other South Asian groups at the other graduate schools).