Puja Das: A Writer and Activist
By Emma Patterson
It’s common to hear students on college campuses proclaim “This needs to happen,” especially when the topic is social or political issues. What’s rare is when a student takes action with an idea and directs it towards actual change.
Well, meet Puja Das, Fredonia’s very own social justice warrior. A criminal justice and psychology double major, and creative writing minor, Puja approaches activism from both a logic- and creative-based perspective. “If I don’t like the system, I should try to learn about the system before I try to make a change,” she says, citing research skills and public speaking skills as instrumental to her activism. Her experience with criminal justice and psychology has also given her the confidence to enact change herself through the creation of the South Asian Student Association, or SASA.
SASA is Puja’s direct attempt to bring positive change to campus by celebrating an often overlooked culture, a culture Puja feels is lacking representation on campus. “I wanted to learn more about South Asian culture and there was no organization that could help me be my authentic self, so I made a club,” she says. However, the road to creating a new student organization was not as simple as it sounds. It took weeks of research, numerous faculty interviews and countless proposal revisions to make SASA a reality.
Puja credits ENGL 375 (Writing for the Professions) as being instrumental to her success. “Learning how to write professionally helped so much. It would take me hours, days, to write an email to a faculty member,” she says. “Now it takes me a few minutes.” Her confidence with her professional writing has also influenced her activism and leadership skills. “Being an activist, I need to always have the facts, and to be eloquent in my speech in order to be taken seriously,” she says. It’s essential to be well-informed and confident of one’s public speaking abilities as an activist, and she feels that her experience with the English department and as president of SASA has helped her hone these skills.
Puja’s dedication to promoting diversity has also translated into further on-campus actions. She became involved with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Fredonia’s Diversity Committee, which have given her the opportunity to educate other students about the beauty of diversity. She does so through events such as November’s colorism panel, during which the Diversity Committee educated students on the nature of internalized racism.
Puja is also able to lend her organizational and leadership skills to volunteer work via the Fredonia Ambassadors, a volunteer service that helps organize campus events and charities. Additionally, she is always trying to expand her worldview, specifically in her role as mentor for an international student under the International Student Services department. She’s even learning Korean, Hindi, Urdu, Italian and American Sign Language in an effort to further understand and communicate with the world around her.
An activist at heart, Puja’s ultimate goal as a student, writer, and leader is to shatter misconceptions about minority groups by speaking out and in support of the marginalized, and for those who cannot always speak up for themselves. When she graduates next May (2018), she hopes to put this goal to action by becoming a government intelligence analyst. “I’ve tried to specialize in different information regarding minorities so I can represent them in a better light in the system.”
Puja’s interest in criminal justice and psychology also plays into her writing: “[Fictional] characters are certainly influenced by their psychological traits, [and] criminal justice helps me shape the experience a character would have based on how they interact with crime.” In the future, she even hopes to publish a few books, and is currently editing a book of poetry.
She also encourages other students to incorporate more English and creative writing courses into their class schedules. “The creative writing minor gives you a place to make work that you want to publish later on. Use these classes [to] your advantage!” she says, her logical side blending once again with her creative ambitions.
“Everybody wants change to occur in some way,” Puja says. If you need evidence of Puja’s dedication to social change, just looking at her myriad accomplishments as a Fredonia student is evidence enough.
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