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Youth Leader Bring 1st Turbaned Sikh to Oxford Union

We focused in our conversation on how there is a lack of Sikh representation, historically, at the Union - a place where...

Serene Singh, aged 25, a Sikh Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford recently brought Ravi Singh Khalsa, the first ever turbaned Sikh to speak on Sikhism at the Oxford Union, the world’s oldest and most famous and formidable debating society. SikhNet interviewed her about this event: 

What was the process by which you decided on Ravi Singh Khalsa? 

  • Serene Ravi 1.jpg

    The Oxford Union Society is governed by many members of the University of Oxford. I am lucky to have been under Oxford Union President Michael-Akolade Ayodeji's term when I served in the Union as a Women's Officer. I mentioned the potential of having Ravi Singh Khalsa, a British Asian Sikh at the Union to Michael very early on in the term. We focused in our conversation on how there is a lack of Sikh representation, historically, at the Union - a place where minorities and diversity have not always been a central focus. From there, Michael empowered me to help bring this vision for not just myself but for the Oxford Sikh Society and honestly Sikhs worldwide who support and who are up-to-date on the Oxford Union to see ourselves represented in a speaker like Ravi Uncle.

What was the key motivation behind the choice?

  • Ravi Singh Khalsa for me has been an inspiration since I was a little girl. I grew up seeing the videos and pictures of Khalsa Aid sewadars in crisis-stricken areas. I think the first ones I can remember were in Haiti. I thought to myself, "I want to also have that type of immense impact on humanity one day." One of the traits I respect most in Ravi Uncle is how he has encapsulated such a powerful premise in Sikhi and shared it with the world with such abundance,compassion, and deep intention. I understand Sikhi better through leaders like Ravi Uncle, and through that, I have a more empathetic outlook on my own leadership, as well.

What kind of feedback or reactions have you received since the speech or visit?

  • Serene Ravi 3.jpg

    The overwhelming response was positive to the event. People were so excited and proud to know that the Union was passionate about representing something so powerful for a minority religious community. Our Sikh Society - many of them have never come to the union and honestly, because of its historical controversies, never planned to attend an event there - but suddenly had a bit more hope and inspiration for the work the Oxford Union has the potential to do because of this event. A lot of members who attended the event had never heard of Sikhi (other than maybe from knowing I am a Sikh or by hearing of the term Sikh) and walked away feeling more educated, connected, and empathetic towards the Sikh community. It was quite special to see and deeply empowering, as well.

Have you any plans for inviting other speakers in the future?

  • Maybe! I really loved how the President and some members of his committee were very respectful and excited for this event to be brought to the union at the time it was brought. I look forward to working with future leadership at the Union and in other places at Oxford University to bring even more Sikh leaders! This is something I believe is part of my duty as a Sikh student at a powerful institution like Oxford which is full of changemakers and leaders.

Was there any other insight, action, reaction, result of the visit?

  • I think overwhelmingly positive! I had a wonderful time interviewing Uncle Ji and living out this dream of mine! My mother also traveled from Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA to attend the event. It was amazing! 

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