Kiran Misra, AM’18 in Public Policy

National Security Education Program Boren Fellowship Awardee

What drew you to the Boren program? What about it seemed like a good fit for you and your work at the time that you were applying?

Before coming to graduate school, I had worked in India and knew I wanted to return to the country to work again. When I started researching fellowships in India, I came across Boren, but was initially skeptical because of the national security focus of the scholarship – the large majority of analyses that look at the intersection of people with brown skin and national security do so by perpetuating racist stereotypes about terrorism that often harm South Asians and South Asian Americans. However, when thinking about what it means for communities of color to experience security in America, I decided to write an application that was honest about the effect American national security policies have had on South Asian Americans and let Boren decide if that was what they were looking for or not.

What has Boren meant to you and your work? Is there a particular experience that stands out? Or, something that you hadn’t counted on that has since proven important for you or your professional/research interests?

I am participating in one of the flagship Boren programs, called SAFLI, the South Asian Flagship Languages Initiative, a special subset of Boren for Hindi and Urdu. The best part of the Boren for me so far has been how truly amazing the parter institute, AIIS, for the SAFLI program is. The teachers are in incredibly caring and effective instructors and AIIS feels like a home away from home.

As someone who has always felt like a “fake” Indian for my lack of confidence in speaking my family’s native language, Boren has allowed me to be in both South Asian and South Asian American organizing spaces with much greater confidence and credibility than I would have been able to without my language skills. This last week, I went to do some field organizing for my work in Delhi and not only was I able to converse with community members myself in their native language, building trust by not having to go through a translator, I was able to translate the interviews into English myself afterwards, greatly expanding the  scope of my own research work. Language skills are an invaluable part of working and living internationally – when I interact with people in their own language, the relationships I create can be exponentially richer and deeper than they would be if I was only able to converse with people in English here, even though English is an official language of India.

Finally, any advice you would offer students who are thinking about applying?

Boren utilizes a very broad definition of national security, one I definitely took advantage of when applying and one that allowed me to be honest in my statements of purpose and essays. From experience, I think it really is in applicants’ best interests to be honest about their true motivation in studying their target language. I had doubts about addressing issues of white supremacy and hate violence in my application for a national security fellowship, but writing essays that truly reflected my politics definitely made my essays stronger and more genuine.

More about Kiran Misra: My professional and research interests are in South Asian American identity, prison industrial complex abolition, and immigration. I wrote my thesis on South Asian American political identity and incorporation.