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Duke University hires its first Hindu chaplain

Usha Rajagopalan

The prestigious Duke University in the US has hired its first Hindu chaplain, who will provide guidance to the Hindu students and represent the varsity at its faith council.

Usha Rajagopalan began her part-time role at Duke on August 1. Rajagopalan is fluent in Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam and comes to Duke with degrees from Annamalai University and the University of Maryland.

She has been leading Hindu worship services in the Triangle area and received the 2009 Kathryn Wallace Award in Community Service from the Triangle Community Foundation, a university statement said.

"Hinduism, or Sanathana Dharma, is not a religion but a practice, a way of life," Rajagopalan said.

"Deepening understanding of their inner world as they pursue their academic goals allows Hindu students at Duke to receive a holistic education and to practice their Dharma or way of life," she said.

Welcoming the appointment, the Duke Chapel Dean Samuel Wells said he welcomes Rajagopalan's perspective in campus conversations among different faiths. "I am proud to be part of a campus culture that builds up diverse faiths by bringing them into healthy dialogue and common enterprises with one another," Wells said.

"This is a flowering of our university's longstanding aspiration to 'eruditio et religio' -- academic learning and embodied faith," Wells said. Founded in 1998, the Hindu Student Association at Duke organizes scripture studies, Hindu festivals and Hinduism Awareness Week.

Sonal Shah steps down from White House Social-Innovation Office

Sonal Shah

Sonal Shah, head of the White House’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation stepped down from her post August 1. Shah, who has led the office’s efforts to promote innovative nonprofits since it was created in 2009, will take a break before deciding what to do next, the White House press office said. The three-person social- innovation office was instrumental in setting up the Social Innovation Fund, a new grants program at the Corporation for National and Community Service that aims to help nonprofits expand effective programs. It also created the White House Council for Community Solutions, a panel of nonprofit leaders and others who are advising the federal government on ways to promote innovative social projects and get people more involved in civic affairs. Before joining the White House, Shah was head of global development at Google.org, the search engine’s philanthropic arm. She was a member of the board that advised President Obama during the transition period before he took office.

First batch of Sikh advocates graduates

Twelve individuals graduated from inaugural Sikh Advocate Academy

The Sikh Coalition has successfully graduated its first class from the inaugural Sikh Advocate Academy, a groundbreaking initiative designed to create a national network of professionally- trained social justice advocates. Twelve passionate individuals from around the nation are now equipped with the knowledge and skills to engage credibly with government officials, promote Sikh perspectives in the media and build alliances with organizations outside the Sikh community.

The new local advocates endured a competitive interview process to be selected for the Academy. They are: Simran Kaur (Fresno, CA), Meeta Kaur (Union City, CA), Saranjit Kaur (Fremont, CA), Sahaj Singh (Santa Fe, NM), Sukhsimranjit Singh (Salem, OR), Arvinderpal Singh (Oxford, MS), Manpreet Kaur (Chicago, IL), Manpreet Kaur (Bellaire, TX), Harmeet Kaur (Houston, TX), Kaviraj Singh (Braintree, MA), Charanpreet Singh (Marriottsville, MD), and Gurwinder Singh (New York, NY). Partners in the government and non-profit communities who spoke on panels during the Academy and trained the advocates were: Eric Treene, Special Counsel on Religious Discrimination, United States Department of Justice; Gene Kim, Executive Director, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; Jasmeet Ahuja, Former Staff Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Michael Lieberman, Washington Counsel, Anti-Defamation League; Priya Murthy, Policy Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together; Shawn Gaylord, Director of Public Policy, Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network; Arsalan Iftikhar, Senior Media Director, ReThink Media; and Mark Reading Smith, Managing Director of DC Office and Rapid Response Director of Security and Rights Collaborative, ReThink Media.

- [BY VRN]