The Indian Student Association hosted their largest annual advocacy event — Chit Chaat — Wednesday evening in Nau Hall with guest speaker Gautam Raghavan. Chit Chaat aims to highlight topics in the South Asian community that aren’t prominently discussed, such as entering political careers.
Raghavan currently serves as the chief of staff for Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and was the former associate director of public engagement under the Obama administration, where he facilitated conversations surrounding the LGBTQ+ community and Asian American community with the president.
The event kicked off with remarks from Raghavan about his background and his own immigration story. Raghavan was born in Bangalore, India and immigrated to the United States at the age of three. His family left India to escape government corruption and allow his father to obtain a PhD. They settled in Seattle, Wash. where Raghavan grew up.
“I think for a lot of us, our immigration stories or parents’ immigration stories play a big role in how we think about politics,” Raghavan said. “And ultimately the kind of politics we want to pursue, whether conservative or liberal or something else entirely.”
Raghavan interned in Washington, D.C. while he was in college and returned in 2004 to take a job as a political fundraiser with the Democratic National Committee. He arrived in D.C. just as the Bush administration began its push to ban same-sex marriage.
“Coming out as a gay man became very political at the same time,” Raghavan said. “But it’s coming up in this landscape in which the president of the United States is trying to use marriage equality as a political tool to divide the country and literally get conservatives to come out and vote for him … I decided, you know, that politics is what I want to do. D.C. is where I want to be.”
He first worked as a political fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in 2004 and was later relocated to Chicago to help Obama’s campaign in 2008. Following the success of Obama’s campaign, Raghavan accepted a job offer working in the Pentagon for the Department of Defense.
Raghavan then accepted positions in the White House as the liaison to the LGBTQ+ community and the Asian American community — which allowed him to directly voice the concerns of each community to the president.
He also touched upon how easy it is to doubt yourself in political roles and how to combat those feelings.
“I realized when I was there was everyone there had some form of imposter syndrome,” Raghavan said. “ I think this is specifically true for women and people of color. Very often we doubt ourselves, and we think, ‘Well, but I don't deserve it.’ And we have to remind ourselves one, we do, and two, the other people are having those doubts as well.”
The discussion then opened to questions from the audience, with one student asking about how to deal with people attacking your identity politically.
“I would sort of flip it and say it's not about being attacked,” Raghavan said. “It's about, ‘what have I learned from being who I am.’ So from being an immigrant, or being brown or being gay … you learn from it, you learn resilience, you learn creativity and a sense of humor.”
Another question focused on how college students can make political impact aside from social media posts or protests.
“[It’s about] finding those discrete things where you can see a direct impact,” Raghavan said. “So it may be something on campus … like getting plastic bags off campus … or something very specific that you can change. Maybe it's in your dorm, maybe it's your cafeteria … small actionable things that make a difference.”