Student Org Spotlight: SALSA

1) What is your name, year in school, and post-grad plans?

Ayesha Ahsan, 2L, public interest law/civil rights litigation related to voting rights, criminal justice reform, racial justice, and immigrant justice.

Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes, 2L, public interest appellate/civil rights work related to housing instability, disability, prisoners’ rights (it’s an evolving list…)

2) Can you give me a quick rundown of what SALSA is all about?

Ayesha: SALSA is a space for South Asian students to be in community with each other. Law school is a very white space and there are few South Asians in law school and in the legal profession generally, so we aim to create opportunities for our community members to feel comfortable and supported as they navigate this chapter in their lives.

Jonathan: What Ayesha said! I would just add that we really try to help build community and a “home base” for South Asian law students: both on campus but also with South Asian law students at other schools and members of the South Asian Bar here in Boston and Massachusetts.

3) Why did you both choose to lead SALSA?

Ayesha: I chose to lead SALSA because the organization helped me survive my 1L year. I moved to Boston for law school all the way from Phoenix, so the anxiety of that move coupled with the anxiety of being a first-generation law student was often overwhelming. Attending SALSA events and interacting with students in that community helped ease my anxieties, so I wanted to give back to the organization that gave so much to me. 

Jonathan: Representation is really important to me and I’m very aware that South Asian law students are entering an academic environment and profession that does not look like them. I wanted to help contribute, in some small way, towards countering this and helping increase the visibility of South Asian law students at BC. Like Ayesha, SALSA was extraordinarily helpful to me when starting at BC and was a key part of my 1L year and I really wanted to help create a similarly memorable experience for incoming students at BC.

4) What is your favorite SALSA event?

Ayesha: The annual Welcome Back Picnic. Professor Parikh is gracious enough to host us at her home every year and it’s a great opportunity to meet new students and reconnect with friends after summer break. Plus, the food is good.

Jonathan: The Welcome Back Picnic is definitely a real SALSA tradition and a great way to get to know other students and Prof. Parikh is such an incredible resource for all students at BC Law. I’m also super excited for a few of the events we have hosted or have planned for this year and am going to use this opportunity to shamelessly plug them! We co-hosted a Thanksgiving event with APALSA (spoiler alert: there was lots of food), and we’re also planning to do a couple of dinners at South Asian restaurants to give folks a chance to get to know each other away from campus. We’re also planning a big conference/networking event in the spring to be held together with other Boston-area SALSAs and the South Asian Bar Association of Greater Boston.

5) What have been some difficulties in leading your organization, and how did you overcome them?

Ayesha: Coming into this role, Jonathan and I had high expectations for ourselves in terms of what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to find ways to provide academic, professional, and social support for our community, but we quickly realized that it’s nearly impossible to do it all, especially considering how busy 2L year is. I don’t think we’ve fully overcome this challenge, but we have a great team who helps us carry the weight (shoutout to Ali, Adi, Michael, and Chandana!) and we’re learning to prioritize projects based on the needs of our members and the feedback we receive. 

Jonathan: I completely agree with everything Ayesha said. The hardest thing has definitely been balancing all of the obligations we have while trying to make sure we’re doing all of the planning and thinking ahead we need to do to ensure that we’re putting on the programming that we feel we owe to all the SALSA members. Ayesha and I are both in a clinic this semester (shoutout to the Civil Rights Clinic!), and balancing that with everything has been a real lesson in time management and prioritization. Like Ayesha said, we have a truly brilliant Board who are all taking the lead on individual projects, which really helps ensure we’re able to keep everything moving forward.

6) What have you learned from being a student leader, and do you recommend other law students to take up that mantle?

Ayesha: Being a student leader, particularly of an affinity group, has taught me a lot about navigating the often somewhat isolating environment that law school offers students of color. The SALSA community is quite small, and our members sometimes feel out of place at BC Law. Attempting to establish a safe space for our community is a difficult task, but it is fulfilling, and I highly recommend other South Asian students get involved with SALSA leadership. 

Jonathan: I’ve definitely learned so much from the experience of being a student leader and it’s a real privilege to be able to hold this position this year. I’ve learned a lot about planning and organization, when you’re the leader of an organization you really become aware that unless you’re planning ahead things just don’t happen. This has definitely been a bit of a learning curve and I’m still struggling with managing it all! As Ayesha said, however, it’s incredibly fulfilling helping to create community for a group of students I care so deeply about. I would really encourage any law students to get involved with any student organizations that they’re passionate about, bringing your own personal flair to an organization and its programming is really rewarding.

7) Do you have any members you want to give a shout out to?

Ayesha: I already gave a shoutout to the rest of our e-board, but they really are a great team to work with so they deserve a second shoutout! Adi Trivedi, Chandana Pandurangi, Ali Shafi, and Michael Jindia are amazing and I feel lucky to work with them. I also want to give a shoutout to our 1L representatives: Ruchita Jain, Avika Dhillon, and Ashmeen Bindra!

Jonathan: Definitely want to shoutout our fantastic e-board and 1L reps! I also genuinely so appreciate all of our members who show up to our events and help create the community we have at BC Law, so want to give them a mention! Last year’s SALSA e-board have also been really great about giving us advice and sharing their knowledge so I’m also very grateful to them.

Ayesha Ahsan
Ayesha Ahsan
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes
Jonathan Bertulis-Fernandes

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