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Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

A Q&A with AAAFSA member Savneet Bains
Savneet Bains

Meet Savneet Bains, a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and a proud member of the Asian/ Asian American Faculty and Staff Association (AAAFSA).

We caught up Bains, who currently serves as a staff member for University Housing and Dining’s Living Learning Communities, to learn more about her experiences navigating life and school as an international student from India, her career goals, and how she has found her community within AAAFSA.

How has your first year as a Longhorn been?

The first year has been a great experience, filled with learning, networking and multitasking. As an international Ph.D. student from India, it was initially challenging to navigate the culture and the ways of teaching and learning, especially during the pandemic. However, finding a community within AAAFSA, support of my family and guidance of people around me helped in overcoming these challenges. Working part-time within the Department of Residence Life has been instrumental in helping me understand the fabric of students and staff at UT Austin. I enjoyed my first year and looking forward to the upcoming years at UT Austin.

What inspired you to pursue your research on Asian American representation in higher education leadership roles?

Back in India, I was working as a career counselor for high school students. My conversations with students and parents urged me to take a deeper dive into what creates a gap between student expectations and parent aspirations when it comes to higher education. I realized this gap was accentuated for South Asian students. Considering the high number of students wanting to pursue post-secondary education in the U.S., I tried reaching out to Asian Americans who held leadership roles in academia. This outreach process was a challenge because I could not find many Asian Americans in those profiles, especially when it came to women. This motivated me to pursue a Ph.D. program in Higher Education Leadership and identify reasons for the underrepresentation of Asian American women in academic leadership roles.

How did you find your community here at UT Austin?

When an existing AAAFSA member introduced me to the group, I attended their first in-person meeting after the pandemic and it was an amazing experience. I could see myself making instant connections, and it just felt so much like home. It is great meeting people from similar backgrounds, listening to common stories, sometimes chatting in your native language and, of course, the amazing food they serve. I look forward to every monthly meeting and enjoy the bond we share as a community.

What do you like most about the AAAFSA community?

I think it’s a beautiful concept of having faculty and staff together, because that really strengthens your understanding of the university. I love the diversity in terms of not only ethnicity but also the variety of programs that everybody is associated with. It provides a platform to share my views and research interests, where others can give constructive feedback considering their knowledge and experience in different domains. In addition, I get to learn about various research projects and job profiles that people from my community are pursuing, which serves as food for thought.

What are some challenges that you’ve faced here at UT Austin?

Along with being a student and a staff member, I am also a wife and a mother. While my family has been a pillar of strength during this transition, it has been challenging to justify all these roles at the same time. While navigating a different country, balancing both cultures, getting back to the classroom after many years, I have tried to find my coping mechanisms. AAAFSA did exactly this for me. Along with getting great professional and academic insights from people here, I ended up making some close friends. We celebrate Indian festivals together, find time to study together, and they also help babysit my kids when I have an important commitment.

What are you looking forward to the most during your next year on campus? 

It is a long journey ahead, and I look forward to my academic and professional growth in the coming months. I have some exciting classes coming up next year, and I await the engaging and enriching discussions within and outside the classroom. Considering the unprecedented times brought by the pandemic, I look forward to meeting people in-person, being actively engaged with AAAFSA and fostering an environment of learning and inclusivity through my assistantship position.

What does AAPI month mean to you?

It’s a month where we celebrate our community by acknowledging and appreciating their contribution towards the American culture and history. It is a time to be proud of who we are and strengthen the love and bond we share as a community.

More about the AAAFSA

The Asian/ Asian American Faculty and Staff Association works to support and empower Asian faculty and staff. They host monthly meetings and events that encourage personal and professional development as well as community. Visit the AAAFSA website for more information.