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UCLA student turns to activism in the face of Trump presidency

Jaya Loharuka, a second-year American literature and culture student, is an activist who addressed a crowd of more than 500 students at the “Love Trumps Hate” rally in November. (Kristie-Valerie Hoang/Daily Bruin)

By Jenna Moorman

January 18, 2017 11:02 pm

Jaya Loharuka stood in front of hundreds of protesters at the “Love Trumps Hate” rally in November and encouraged members of the crowd to stand in solidarity with each other.

“I want to be taken seriously and treated respectfully as a woman of color, not judged by my attractiveness or emotions,” Loharuka said to the crowd.

Loharuka, a second-year American literature and culture student, had never been an activist and never expected to address a crowd of more than 500 students. But, in her postelection despair, she said she felt compelled to speak out.

Loharuka said she thinks the election of President-elect Donald Trump invites attacks against her identity as a second-generation Indian woman, which motivated her to address the crowd, change her career focus and deepen her activism.

Loharuka’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from India more than 30 years ago to begin their careers in medicine, she said. Her mother instilled traditional values in her, but her family’s Indian traditions often embarrassed Loharuka among her Manhattan Beach peers.

[Related: Alums donate century-old letters capturing Indian immigrant’s experiences]

After years of her mother’s Indian pride and education in their home, at age 15, Loharuka decided to visit India alone for the first time to volunteer at a girls’ orphanage.

Growing up in a primarily white, affluent area, Loharuka said she did not always understand the disadvantages that people in less-privileged parts of the world faced. She added volunteering at the orphanage opened her eyes to the need for educational equality.

Her passion for providing equal opportunities in education followed her to UCLA, where she is now an intern at Project Literacy. Project Literacy is a volunteer project that provides tutoring for low-income Los Angeles students.

Loharuka works with nontraditional adult students, including a 50-year-old student Shon, who has made a deep impact on her. Project Literacy policy does not allow members to release students’ last names.

“All of our students, they’re smart people and they deserve to live in dignity; they deserve to get degrees,” she said. “It’s a cycle where if you’re forced into this education system, your kids will be too. There won’t be any room for upper mobility.”

Loharuka has witnessed the education system fail Shon, which made Loharuka lose trust in the system, she said. This, along with her often marginalized, unprotected identity as an Indian woman, has led her to further question the political system and its elected officials.

Loharuka said she initially supported Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries because of his commitment to equality, including the equality of education that she fights for with Project Literacy. Later, she supported Hillary Clinton during the general election.

Immediately after Trump’s win, Loharuka said she felt numb and powerless. To her, organized resistance seemed fruitless in the face of a Republican president and Congress.

After one of her professors broke down after the election results, Loharuka said she was moved from numbness to action. She walked to the “Love Trumps Hate” rally, seeking solidarity and community.

“I was just numb – this weird kind of thing where you want to cry, where you can’t get it out and are just kind of suffocating inside,” she said. “And when she let her guard down, I finally started sobbing.”

At the rally, Loharuka spontaneously addressed the protesters. She spoke of her fears, her identity and her womanhood. But, primarily, she spoke of the need for solidarity and momentum through the next four years.

“It was so surprising and comforting to see how many people actually came together and wanted to do something,” she said.

She said that her participation in the rally revitalized her pride in her Indian identity.

Sunia Khan, site coordinator of Project Literacy and a second-year psychobiology student, said she has seen Loharuka’s new passion in her work since the election – she has become more vocal about her opinions and more passionate about mentoring the adult students.

Jarrett Lampley, Loharuka’s friend and a second-year Design | Media Arts student, also said he noticed changes in Loharuka’s spirit and activism following the election. He said Loharuka speaks more about her beliefs and has expressed interest in becoming a civil rights lawyer.

Though she believes her newfound activism can be powerful, Loharuka is still worried about the policies that the Trump administration will enact.

She fears for her Project Literacy students because she said she thinks governmental support for education will decrease and educational disparities between socioeconomic and racial backgrounds will worsen.

She fears that her identity as an Indian woman will not be protected, she added.

[Related: Student reflects on immigrant identity, anti-Muslim prejudice in US]

But Loharuka said she is trying to keep her chin up and her voice loud. She said she will continue to help create a safe atmosphere for marginalized people, who fear the Trump administration will discriminate against them.

Loharuka added she still hopes for a better future despite an unexpected election season.

“Maybe our first female president will be a woman of color,” she said.

Read more Daily Bruin coverage of the presidential inauguration, along with analysis of California and federal policy under the Trump Administration:


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