Chandni Sharma

Refusing to Compromise Identity

Her name is Chandni, and she’s going to make damn sure you take the time to learn it right.

“You know how people have their, like, Starbucks name or whatever?” Sharma said. “I don’t do that. I friggin’ make them spell my name.”

Chandni Sharma, a CAS senior studying psychology, serves as the president of the senior Class Activities Board and to her, names are of utmost importance.

“That’s the way that you make people learn,” Sharma said. “You have to challenge what you see day-to-day. I care so much about learning other people’s names.”

Identities are at the forefront of the conversation for her, and each of her own — Indian, Hindu, a woman — plays largely into how and why she leads. Sharma initially joined CAB as a freshman when she knew she’d be commuting from New Jersey and wouldn’t have a built-in dorm community, but it has blossomed into more than just an extracurricular. CAB is the largest programming board on campus and is open to anyone and everyone, regardless of housing status or school. That openness brings in a world of diverse identities that Sharma champions as she strives to have those voices heard.

It wasn’t always that way though. When she arrived on campus, the leaders she saw around her fit too tightly into a mold. She sought to shatter that. She also dropped traditional student events that didn’t serve her vision or the greater community, such as the high-price tag senior boat cruise that CAB became known for.

“When I go into a new event, I ask myself — is everyone there the same?” Sharma said.

In CAB meetings, she interjects when she sees fit, prioritizing discussions around issues that matter most, like affordability. Her realism and envelope-pushing is only a testament to her love for the school. She’s working on simple but complex school-wide issues, like bringing commuter students more into the fold and bridging the Brooklyn-Manhattan campus in a way student leaders around her aren’t. This is something Student Resource Center Associate Director Zach Harrell, a CAB17 liaison who Sharma lightheartedly calls her NYU dad, can attest to.

“Having someone who is really able to think about identities that she may not be a part of is something that I think speaks loudly to her commitment to NYU,” Harrell said.

Sharma rejects the common NYU student’s cynicism toward their school. Since her childhood, she’s been a huge cheerleader for NYU.

“I knew I wanted to go to NYU since I was, like, five years old,” Sharma said. “I didn’t know what college was, but I knew these letters: N-Y-U.”

Her passion makes her message resonate with those who work with her. She understands that the university has faults, and she isn’t selling anything hollow. She wants to make change.

Accountability is a value Sharma holds close — things like the alienation of the Tandon School of Engineering and questions of affordability that the university makes big claims about are focus points that she addresses head on with the power she has as a leader. While the university does the talking, Sharma seeks to do the doing.

At the end of the day, what’s essential to her is not being high and mighty in her leadership, but instead remaining grounded in human interaction. That’s why people are willing to work so closely with her — the environment she builds are wholly dependent on person-to-person relationships.

“When we bring it back down to a human level, beyond who we see day-to-day, we really learn who a person is” Sharma said. “We might know a person for a year and still know such a small part of them.”

Fellow CAB17 member Aisha Khan brought this point home, asserting that Sharma leads by example, and the example she sets is one of collaboration and connection.

“She never lets titles or hierarchies of positions cloud her interactions with peers,” Khan said. “She always makes you feel like your ideas are valuable and that they’re being heard.”

When Sharma takes her talents beyond her beloved dream school, she expects no dip in ambition for herself. She hopes to work with families and would ultimately love to teach someday, with interest in maybe even creating her own class on women, children and the media. But it’s not the title that she cares about; it’s the impact that she has.

“I hope I can be a leader in every facet of my life,” Sharma said.

Ultimately, Sharma’s charm lies in her character. It’s who she is at her core — her identities — that give her the fuel to inspire. Her unabashed sense of self has allowed her quirks and faults to shine through as strengths. Above all, she never wants to stop learning about herself — and she wants to empower others to do the same.

Read the rest of Influential 2016 here

Email Rachel Ruecker at [email protected]