A heart for community and education is exactly what Raji Brar will be bringing to the California State University Board of Trustees. Brar was recently appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom to be a trustee and will be joining in May.
Education was pushed on Brar during her entire childhood. She stated that although her father went to school her mother did not go to school past the 5th grade. After moving to America her mother worked at Burger King because it was a job where she didn’t have to read or write anything at the time.
“She always said to get your education, it’s your ‘sathi’ your life partner, it will never leave you and no one can take it from you,” said Brar.
Brar explained how the experience growing up as a first-generation American had a large impact on her wanting to her education. She stated that like a lot of children of immigrants, she had to grow up faster than others in order to help her mother out.
“I always had to do the bills or read her medicine label bottles. Which is kind of traumatizing cause I was so freaked out to make sure she took the right medication cause she can’t read or how many times a day,” said Raji reflecting on her childhood. “I realized quickly why education was important because I had to go everywhere with my mom.”
Education to Brar is needed for everyone to thrive as opposed to just surviving. To her, this means having the chance for upward mobility. In her case, after graduating from California State University of Bakersfield (CSUB) she and her husband were able to buy their first home a year later.
“I remember the thing I was so excited about was drawers. Drawers that close and open because in my house growing up they were always broken. I remember thinking ahhh I have nice drawers,” said Brar.
She attributed this opportunity to having her education and stated that that’s what thriving is and she wants this to be more common for CSU graduates. Brar stated that it is the responsibility of the board of trustees to have the conversation on how to make sure that is happening.
“Because if we send students out and they have this degree which is wonderful but they’re riddled with debt, they can’t buy a home, did we really give them upward mobility?” stated Brar. “So, that is a responsibility of ours. Maybe not directly but indirectly, speaking to forces that have control over those issues. Which are our governments state and federal level.”
Brar continued to state that it is an important conversation for the CSU system to have and make sure the right people are at the table to address those issues.
Adding a voice from the Central Valley to the board of trustees is important to Brar and being able to share first-hand experience.
“Our students and our workforce are going to be having an uphill battle. We’re all aware of what’s happening in the oil industry, in agriculture. That’s a concern here because those are the major jobs that students have after college,” said Brar. “So being able to explain firsthand what’s happening here in the community I grew up in I think it’s super important when you decide where is education going to be.”
Another conversation Brar stated needed to happen at the state level is if jobs like agriculture and oil are leaving Kern County then new jobs like tech should be coming to Kern.
Her experience is what Brar uses to strive for equity in education and making sure that people have the opportunity to get their education and know that it is attainable for them. Brar stated that for many people growing up in the valley who may be first-generation education is seen as a “luxury and not a must.”
Brar stated that her parents are both very proud of the accomplishments because of how education was pushed in their home. Brar continued to emphasize the importance of education because it was not accessible to everyone in India versus in America.
Now as a mother Brar pushes the importance of education just as hard as her parents did for her.
“I tell my kids it’s their responsibility for those who don’t get to go. That you get to go, you have to honor that responsibility and that chance and opportunity you have,” said Brar.
In addition to the importance of education, her parents helped with instilling confidence in her. She stated they never let her feel sorry for herself even when she might be in a space where she was unwanted or the “odd man out”.
“They’re like who cares if they don’t like you? Just go. I think I’ve come to that point in life where now I realize if I’m not wanted in the room that’s exactly where I need to be,” said Brar.
Brar encourages other young women to step out of their comfort zone more as well as expand their horizons.
“Do more than just your job. Sometimes we get in this like do my job and that’s it. Well no, be involved, join a community board. That’s huge. Joining the board of a nonprofit,” said Brar. “Get out of your comfort zone of just going to dinner with your girlfriends and having fun. Yeah, that’s great but maybe go to that 5K walk… We have so many different community organizations, go to that. Join the chamber, go meet new people.”
When Brar is not working on boards or within her businesses, she enjoys just being with her family. She stated that one of her favorite things is when her whole family just piles up in one room to watch a movie together.