Alumnae Profiles: Kiran Ahuja C'93
Kiran Ahuja is leading the charge for an Executive Order dedicated to improving “the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through increased access to, and participation in, federal programs in which they may be underserved.” Appointed December 14, 2009, as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, she is responsible for advising federal agency leadership on effective strategies and tactics for implementation of programs and services.
Raised in Savannah, Georgia, Ahuja credits Spelman with heightening her knowledge, awareness and activism around issues of race, gender and class.
“Spelman taught me to be a strong and dynamic leader. My professors taught me to work hard, be critical of what I saw around me, and serve as a good example to my peers,” said Ms. Ahuja. “I would not be where I am today, serving as the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, without their support and positive influence.”
Ms. Ahuja points to her office’s effort to help Southeast Asian Americans and other minority communities in the Gulf impacted by the oil spill as the greatest accomplishment to date. “Unknown to many, there are thousands of Southeast Asian Americans (particularly Vietnamese Americans) who are fisher folk and work in the seafood industry. Their lives were not only devastated by Hurricane Katrina, but several years later they are struggling to save a way of life they have known for more than 30 years and to stay afloat because of the oil spill,” she explained.
Ahuja works with a team to ensure community members and federal agencies are serving local Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the Gulf. The goal is to make certain that they are represented throughout the recovery process and that information is translated into appropriate languages so the community stays informed about resources [and] opportunities.” Ms. Ahuja says she enjoys her job very much because she gets to remove barriers and improve access to federal resources for an underserved population. “The AAPI community is diverse and complex with over 50 different ethnic subgroups and 100 different languages, and it faces numerous challenges that often go unnoticed,” she noted.
Ms. Ahuja cites several Spelman mentors and professors with “stretching” her and helping her to further develop as a leader. “Dr. Johnnetta Cole was president at
the time, and she had a powerful impact on many of us. We looked up to her; we thought she was an incredible leader,” she said. “In addition, I admired many of my professors: Drs. Jeanne Meadows, Marilyn Davis and Desiree Pedescleaux. They displayed a lot of integrity, sensibility and passion, and that definitely influences the kind of person I try to be everyday in my personal life and in my work with the initiative and on behalf of Asian American Pacific Islander populations in America.”
*This article first appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of the Spelman Messenger*