By Maxime Garcia Diaz — The freshly elected Student Council (SC) of AUC has been thrown into the deep end, attending meetings two days after the May elections. Fortunately board member Tanushree Kaushal, for one, is no stranger to a hectic schedule. As a second-year Social Science major, her spring semester consisted of five courses and a demanding internship: in the past she spear-headed a micro-credit project in her native India as well as juggling three AUC committees. To call her an over-achiever would be an understatement.
It is this insatiable ambition that motivates her as a member of the newly minted Student Council. “It will be a lot of work, but as long as at least a part of this work can be relevant to the community, I’m happy with it,” she said. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do and I think that’s what most of us have wanted to do, and through this, maybe I finally can.”
Kaushal has always preferred to engage with work that is relevant and meaningful to her community and immediate surroundings, and she started young. Born on August 16th, 1994 in New Delhi, she traveled to Bangladesh alone at fifteen to learn more about a micro-finance project being carried out in the country’s rural villages. She was so fascinated by the project that she stayed in a hostel in Dhaka for two months, alone. According to Kaushal, “my parents were really scared, like why are you going to Bangladesh? You’re an Indian girl.” She was raised, she said, in “this really secluded, rich lifestyle which is similar to everything in the West, but then your country isn’t really like that. So I had to make the effort to see the country. I still haven’t seen s–t, but at least I made the effort.” Her journey to Bangladesh was about more than broadening her horizons though: the micro-credit project she saw there inspired her to start something similar in her native country, where previous micro-credit initiatives by the government failed completely.
As Kaushal describes growing up in India, the contrasts and contradictions she grapples with are clear: raised in an affluent environment in an urban area, she was largely sheltered from the conditions of poverty in rural parts. By setting up a micro-credit project in her own country, she said, “I’ll become more familiar with India.”
Right now, however, she will be focusing more on AUC. Before running for Student Council, Kaushal was one of several critical students objecting to the uniform character of the Economics track. In approaching this problem, Kaushal prioritized diplomacy: “I have a different way of working – you have to work with the teacher. You kind of have to cooperate your way through it, not have someone as the villain.” This instinct to bring about change from within led Kaushal to her internship as a teacher’s assistant for the Economic Thought course. Kaushal has little interest in following a teaching career, but pursued this internship because she wanted to change the course and have a role in it, “The Economics track needs to change. So, you talk to someone, and you get somewhere,” she said.
Kaushal is articulate and persuasive: no wonder her strategy has developed this way. “You just have to talk. I’m serious,” she said. “I just talk my way out of my life. People listen. If you sound like you know your stuff then they are like, sure.” This philosophy of communication and cooperation has guided her through many endeavors, including gathering sponsors for her micro-credit project in India: “When you’re so small, you feel like, why would they give it to me? I don’t have a big project backing me up. Out of all people, why would they choose me? But you can always find something if you’re committed.”
Currently, Kaushal is committed to the Student Council, a task that will call on all the communicative, diplomatic and cooperative skills she has acquired from internships and projects. Right now, there is a restructuring in the works for AUC, which would bring it under the UvA and VU Science faculties – a questionable position for an institution devoted to not only science but also social sciences and humanities. The meetings the new SC board has joined have been centered around this topic: with the AUC staff, administration and student representatives attempting to find an alternative. Kaushal was part of the ad hoc committee set up to draft the final proposal for such an alternative. As far as the result goes, she said, “A lot depends on management. Right now I’m beginning to realize the things that you heard about before – about how much power the management has, and how it is a very one-sided relationship, now you’re seeing it in action.” One of the main election points for Party Pleb, the list Kaushal ran with as first candidate, was the expansion of student power to achieve a more equal power dynamic between management and student body. Although Kaushal was the only Party Pleb member to be elected, she is still very happy with the team, and she knows from past experiences that teamwork and cooperation are paramount in accomplishing anything. Alongside her fellow board members, Kaushal also cites the general AUC environment as conducive to success, despite the skewed power relationships: “Working at AUC is not as difficult as working at a lot of other places would be. Usually you have the teachers behind you, currently you have the interim dean behind you. It’s a relatively easy environment if you want to bring changes, but you still have to keep going.”
She, and her fellow SC board members of the year 2015-2016, have a large task ahead of them, following up a tumultuous academic year where transparency and visibility for the SC increased but so did pressure from the students, as the UvA protests raged in the background. Fortunately, Tanushree Kaushal is more than up to the challenge.