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Student Spotlight: Neil Pandit, SGA’s First Asian-American President

Written by Samantha Cobaugh, Campus Staff Writer
2022-2023 SGA President Neil Pandit introducing the Closing Keynote Speaker at the 2023 Symposium on Democracy. (Photo Courtesy Danielle Bostjancic)
MAR.3, 2023 – Washington & Jefferson College claims to develop students into thriving leaders and generous members of the community, one shining example that this claim is true is our current SGA (Student Government Association) President, Neil Pandit. As a senior student at Washington & Jefferson College, Pandit is well-versed in the culture and inner workings of campus. Pandit attended W&J because he wanted a “small liberal arts college with a strong community and activities.” As a neuroscience major, and a conflict & resolutions studies minor (on the pre-health track), Pandit prioritized a supportive pre-health program, along with opportunities to branch out.

Pandit has been making waves at Washington & Jefferson since his first year (2019). As an active participant in his high school Student Council in Massachusetts, Pandit was inspired to run for SGA after being introduced to it at orientation. He then decided to run for Class Representative in Alex Hall under the memorable quip, “Neil like the Astronaut.” After being elected Class Representative, Pandit joined the Dining Committee and finished off his first year at W&J. Pandit returned the next fall and was appointed to the role of Dining Chair by someone within SGA, due to his active participation in the Dining Committee his first year. Pandit graciously accepted the position and served as Dining Chair for two years. Responsibilities of Dining Chair include leading Dining Committee meetings and meeting regularly with the Dining General Manager & Executive Chef to ensure that concerns were being addressed quickly and appropriately. Pandit comments “...the food has continually increased in quality, but it’s mainly about staying accountable, and ensuring that the dining leadership team understands that the students are the customers, and the food should be what the students want it to be.” Dining Committee is an integral part of campus that does not just impact food. Having food accessible for a variety of demographics is highly influential to campus culture – it makes people feel welcome on campus when their needs are accommodated.

“When I was elected, I was quite humbled to say that I’d be the first Asian American in this role, and only the third person of color, in the history of the College, to hold this role.” - Pandit'23

Pandit’s extensive experience with legislative work, as a Healthcare Policy Intern for two summers at the Massachusetts State House, gave him confidence to successfully run for Speaker of the Assembly. Pandit reflects on his transition to Executive Board, “From there, I never really expected to go up on the Executive Board…but then when the time was nearing for elections…at that point I had been the Dining Chair for two years, had been leading Constitution Committee, had been the Speaker of the Assembly…people convinced me and told me that it’s my time to run.” Pandit was successful in his campaign; with his comprehensive ideas, and significant leadership experience securing his spot. Pandit expresses his pride of being given this role, “When I was elected, I was quite humbled to say that I’d be the first Asian American in this role, and only the third person of color, in the history of the College, to hold this role.” The first two SGA Presidents of color were Kenny Clark in 2018 and Carmen Carroll in 2019.

As SGA President, Pandit juggles multiple committees and helps maintain SGA overall. Pandit prioritizes keeping SGA a responsive, open organization. Pandit states, “I’ve had my three main priorities of the year, the main one being: diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how do we improve that, not only within SGA itself, but on campus, and be sure that we’re providing support to cultural organizations, and students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds on
campus.” Pandit firmly believes in providing support for students, so they feel welcome at W&J, “I know and I understand the experience they have, in the world, on campus, in the region…”

On his continual mission to make campus more accessible and accepting, Pandit has put together a task force, which is looking at whether W&J should join the Campus Pride Index. The Campus Pride Index is used by students around the world to decipher if college campuses are LGBTQ+ friendly. This task force will provide a report about the inclusivity of campus and how it should be addressed. This information will be acknowledged and used to discuss with senior faculty members and senior administrators on how to make W&J a more welcoming and inclusive environment.

“I’ve had my three main priorities of the year, the main one being: diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how do we improve that, not only within SGA itself, but on campus, and be sure that we’re providing support to cultural organizations, and students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds on campus.” - Pandit'23

Furthermore, transparency is a huge part of Pandit’s philosophy as SGA president. Pandit explained, “How do we continue making our processes and procedures open to members of the public…” This is done through: feedback forms, a virtual suggestion box, and QR codes around campus, MyW&J, the Weekly and the Weekender. A primary responsibility as SGA President is relationship building. Pandit explained how he meets every week with Dean Eva (Dean of Students & VP of Student Life) to go over what the assembly needs and “to continue ensuring that SGA remains a forward-thinking, and nimble organization.” In addition, Pandit meets with Dr. Knapp regularly to provide a student perspective to the President of W&J. Pandit says, “That’s something I hold very closely in my role: how do I ensure that the student perspective is always accounted for in any institution decision making.”

After graduating from Washington & Jefferson this May, Pandit is going to attend medical school on a U.S. Air Force scholarship. This intensive application process was very competitive, as the Air Force was looking for highly qualified candidates who possess leadership, collaboration and potential to be a military officer. Pandit will be a medical officer in the air force (an officer and physician). Pandit feels confident in his career decision and asserted “I’ve chosen to go on that path because I want a sense of adventure, to be able to do something new while also serving our nation.” He claims that his time as SGA president will remain with him, “It’s really taught me how to be an effective leader, being an effective leader is not just demanding things and expecting them to happen, but it’s finding creative solutions to creative problems…being able to listen to others…I want to be able to translate my service from here to an air force career.”

His advice for current Washington & Jefferson students is to “take opportunities and branch out,” while keeping an open mind. Diversity, equity and inclusion are the keys to maintaining an inclusive campus, the foundation of which was laid by significant leaders, one of which being Neil Pandit.
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