Fellows | 7 January 2013

The Importance of Cultural Education


Navdeep KaurOn the side of Navdeep Kaur’s left hand, a tattoo reads, “Conquer Your Mind, Conquer The World” in Punjabi.

Although subtle in size, the tattoo, written in Gurmukhi, heavily influences Kaur, and signifies her conscious decision to take charge of her life and her choices.

The fourth-year history major and education minor acts upon her tattoo’s message through her involvement with UCSC’s Sikh Student Association (SSA), a student organization for Sikh and Punjabi issues, culture, and ideology. Kaur sees SSA as an opportunity to educate herself, Sikhs and non-Sikhs.

“I have an extreme love for my religion and where my gurus come from,” Kaur said. “I have a thirst to learn. Not only am I learning with SSA, but I’m helping people learn. It’s great to see other students become more knowledgeable.”

SSA hosts events such as “Learning from the Oak Creek Wisconsin Tragedy: Sikhs and Pluralism in America,” which took place in November 2012. Students play an influential role in UCSC’s Sikh and Punjabi studies program, a place they can witness their own suggestions unfold. After students expressed a heavy interest, Sikh and Punjabi studies offered Punjabi courses through UCSC at San Jose Gurdwara during summer 2012. Kaur praises the organization’s and the students’ work and she sees them as opportunities to spread the message of Sikhi.

“We use the word ‘tolerance’ too often and too much. This country needs to accept and not just tolerate” Kaur said. “To accept is to welcome: I may not have the same beliefs as you but I acknowledge your presence in my life. To tolerate is to leave you as you are and to not recognize your being. It has a negative connotation that differentiates people. We, as a nation, need to move away from tolerance towards acceptance.”

The Sikh and Punjabi Studies course “Introduction to the Sikhs” initially fostered Kaur’s participation with SSA. UCSC economics professor Nirvikar Singh, who currently holds the Sarbijt Singh Aurora Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies, teaches the course. Kaur said she is proud to note the increased ratio of non-Sikh students to Sikh students in the fall 2012, when compared to the course’s inaugural appearance in fall 2011.

Although Kaur graduates in June 2013 and is unsure about her post-graduation plans, she is considering teaching at the high school level. She eventually wants to pursue a Ph.D., but she does not have to wait for a teaching degree to promote a cultural education, as she already promotes it now.

Learn More:

Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UCSC
January 26: “Feminism and Social Justice in Sikhi”
March 29-30, 2013: UCSC Conference in Sikh and Punjabi Studies
Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2012: “Sikh religion joining California universities’ curriculum”