*EDITOR’S NOTE: Candidates submitted their own biographies
I am an Associate Professor in the English and Creative Writing department at Columbia College Chicago, where I teach classes that focus on race, ethnicity, colonialism, and decolonization. My writing has appeared in publications such as The Hairpin and Kitaab: Asia+n Writing in English, and in other, scholarly, venues. I will be starting as Associate Chair of my department in the next academic year.
I was born in India and came to the United States when I was seventeen years old to get my undergraduate degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. I received my Ph.D. in English from the University of Minnesota, and then moved with my husband to Oak Park in 2010, where our son is now a second grader at Irving Elementary.
I’m currently serving in the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate at Columbia College where I have advocated for faculty during the intersecting crises brought on by the pandemic. It is this belief in advocacy, especially for those who don’t have a seat at the table, that I hope to bring to the Oak Park Public Library Board.
In my ten years in academia, I have experience working through large institutional structures to identify and confront inequitable practices. I welcome honest arguments that are based on disagreements around values and processes. In my experience, these are necessary first steps to generate nuanced, nimble, and ultimately healthy policies.
I’ve worked on the planning committee of the local South Asians for Black Lives group, as a lead organizer of Oak Park Mutual Aid, and with The People’s Lobby to fight for more racial, gender, and economic equity in Oak Park and our neighboring communities.
The fundamental thing that I believe about working to make communities more equitable is that we need to be engaged in the work incessantly but because disenfranchisement, impoverishment, and racism are daily and hefty processes with the weight of institutions behind them. We need to mount equally significant counterprocesses to begin undoing their damage.
I want to be part of the work of having the library be an antiracist, equity-focused, and inclusive space.
How do you plan to facilitate the re-openings of the Dole and Maze branches?
In a nutshell, with great caution, and in close conversation with the Director of Libraries David Seleb whose job it is to be aware of and make recommendations based on state and federal guidelines around COVID mitigation. What we know about the virus has changed drastically in the last year; it’s sometimes hard to remember that a year ago we were more concerned with surface transmission. Given the shifting ground I believe that the only responsible way to answer this question is in what might otherwise seem like general terms— as a Trustee, I would support the reopening of the Maze and Dole branches that was done as thoughtfully as their closure. I also understand that, as conditions in our community improve, the reopening of these branches may be underway before the new board is seated.
As a trustee, how do you intend to minimize the tax levy increases for residents after almost a year of limited library services and branch shutdowns?
I feel I must say that the fact that the closure of Maze and Dole and the intermittent closure of the main branch registers as “almost a year of limited library services” speaks to how beloved the spaces themselves are in our community. That said, the library has continued providing a lot of services and access to many materials during this time; for instance, consumption of digital materials understandably skyrocketed during this last year, as have the library’s virtual offerings. Evidently, the library has successfully pivoted where necessary much like many of us have had to, and any conversations about the financial implications of ostensibly limited library services have to consider this context.
I do not believe that “minimizing the tax levy increases” is a simple or even unidirectional process; clearly, embedded in this question is the truth that the community is missing certain library services—I know that my own second grader loved the Tuesday evening chess classes with Luis, as well as our semi-regular practice of Friday afternoons to lounge and read in the main branch for a couple of hours. I will work to make sure that budget priorities are aligned with the same values and practices that patrons love about
Explain your position on the library’s evolution from paid security to a social service model.
Two solid thumbs up. Hiring social workers to replace security guards recognizes that libraries are community spaces for everyone, rather than property that needs to be protected. The presence of social workers has also meant that the libraries are providing free mental health assessments in partnership with Rush during COVID, something else that acknowledges that our libraries are the sites for a wide range of patrons with many different needs.
Why is it the library’s role to focus on equity and social justice issues?
First and foremost, all institutions need to be equity focused because working for as many people as possible to have a fair shot at success is just the first step to a thriving environment for everyone. But the very premise of public libraries particularly is the belief that literacy is essential for a successful populace; it is the charge of public libraries to be nimble about what literacy means in contemporary contexts, and how to have that be as widely accessible as possible.
In the context of Oak Park: 96% of our library’s budget comes from property taxes. This means that the budget is relatively stable, maybe especially compared to other Oak Park taxing bodies. I bring this up because the truth is that the library is already a pivotal stakeholder of equity in Oak Park because of the very fact that people pay into the library at relatively the same rate regardless of whether or not we’ve gone through a global pandemic. I believe the library’s job is to acknowledge and be transparent about this role that it already inhabits, and undertake social justice initiatives that do justice to this position.
What experience and qualifications do you possess to help the library overcome those obstacles and limitations?
I am an Associate Professor in the English and Creative Writing department at Columbia College Chicago. Last year, when the pandemic hit and our college, like others, was faced with unprecedented changes, I ran for and won seats on the faculty senate and then its Executive committee. I understood that the coming months would be especially trying times for educators, and I wanted to make sure that the faculty had as strong an advocate for them as possible during these times. It is this belief in advocacy, especially for those who don’t have a seat at the table, that I hope to bring to the Oak Park Public Library Board.
I started volunteering for Oak Park Mutual Aid in 2020, when we distributed funds and food boxes to those neighbors hit hard by COVID and its aftershocks. For Oak Park Mutual Aid, I and my husband also organized a fundraiser in the form of a virtual craft fair. The vendors were local crafters and makers who have also been adversely affected by the lack of in-person opportunities to sell their wares. It should be noted that almost fifty percent of vendors were BIPOC sellers.
In the last year, I have also been on the planning committee for a local group of South Asians for Black Lives. In that capacity, I have worked with my colleagues to host and facilitated meaningful (and often hard) conversations about South Asian complicity in anti-Black racism, and what we can do to move forward.
I am an academic, a teacher, because I believe in evidence, and am most convinced by positions and arguments that are supported through vetted sources. At the same time, I am a literature teacher because I care about what counts as evidence. Though a fan of data and numbers, I also understand that stories– fictional ones that can increase our empathy for those we’ve never encountered as well as the narratives of those that institutions traditionally ignore– can provide a powerful way for us to reshape our thinking.
How do you aim to balance the will of board members with that of library employees and that of the public, regarding resources, pandemic precautions and the financial toll of COVID-19?
The Oak Park Public Library system is fairly well loved in the community, and I’m not sure that the interests outlined in this question—that of the library employees Trustees and, on the other hand, that of the public, are actually competing in any significant way. I will be advocating for the library’s stated mission and commitment to providing services to as many as possible. As a homeowner in Oak Park, I am not immune to property tax increases, and even my family, lucky as we are to have kept our jobs and our health, has not been completely exempt from financial pressures during this last year. I understand the need for being fiscally responsible with people’s hard-earned money. At the same time, I am also cognizant that I will not be working alone to make decisions; I am confident that this will be a careful Board and I fully expect to be among those who advocate for the preservation of library services and operations, coupled with strategic and thoughtful visions for moving forward.