With the start of classes on Feb. 1, former Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President Chitra Parikh ’21 completed her term.
The Daily Princetonian asked Parikh and those who worked with her to look back on her time as USG President and how the goals laid out in her campaign platform were adjusted to fit the needs wrought by the pandemic.
Reflecting on a Leader
According to Ashwin Mahadevan ’22, Parikh’s Vice President for the fall term and current USG Vice President, Parikh made every effort to “make sure that [USG] created an open place for students to voice their concerns.”
Parikh orchestrated Q&As, office hours, feedback forms, surveys, and focus groups, all in an effort to ensure that undergraduates would have an opportunity to relay concerns to USG.
“Chitra is a pragmatic realist who is nonetheless unabashedly in love with the idea of Princeton. And not just her version of Princeton, but everyone’s Princeton,” wrote Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne, who works closely with USG, in a statement to the ‘Prince’.
Her peers said that beyond making sure every voice was heard, Parikh made sure that every problem was solved.
“One of the most important features of Chitra’s leadership is how she established a relationship with administrators,” said Christian Potter ’22. “She had their trust because [the University administration] knew she was there to deliver for the student body.”
Potter will succeed Parikh as the next USG president.
Andres Larrieu ’23, who served as Parikh’s vice president before taking a gap year in the fall, said Parikh’s leadership was hands-on and inclusive.
“People were willing to listen and step up whenever help was needed. She was always encouraging people to jump onto a project right away,” he said.
Productivity during a Pandemic
Parikh began her term in February 2020 with high expectations for her time as President. At her first meeting, she outlined the priorities of her campaign and how she would execute them within the next year. Her five priorities were mental health; Title IX reform; housing, dining, and transportation; sustainability; and increasing resource accessibility.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences challenged her initial plans.
“She had mapped out plans for the Spring term, summer months, and the Fall. Those plans went out the window in March,” Dunne wrote.
According to those who worked with her, Parikh’s leadership did not waver in the face of adversity and trial. After it was announced that students were to leave campus and participate in remote instruction, Parikh reportedly went to work immediately on an initiative to provide free shuttle bus services from campus to Newark Liberty International Airport.
“I was especially cognizant that we were all facing different challenges and stressors based on our personal situations. Student input and feedback was especially important for this reason,” Parikh wrote to the ‘Prince’.
One way Parikh adapted to meet the needs of the student body during the remote portion of the Spring 2020 semester came in the form of a Student Input Survey.
According to Parikh’s term overview document, USG organized a comprehensive input survey that would function to “collect widespread student input for consideration in important University decisions and COVID-19 policies.”
The results of the survey were summarized in a report which was shared with the entire undergraduate student body as well as several administrative offices and the Board of Trustee Committees.
Despite the struggles that 2020 presented, Parikh was still able to pursue some of the original goals she outlined in her campaign platform.
Parikh worked with the Mental Health Task Force and Letters to Strangers to create the Mental Health Guidebook, a comprehensive document with resources, contact points, testimonials, and relevant University policy. Mental health was one of the five priorities outlined in Parikh’s first report.
“My goal was to focus on accessibility of information and resources,” Parikh said. “As the year progressed, I worked to uphold these expectations and goals by ensuring that we still continued to focus on improving the Princeton experience for the student body.”
When asked what she has learned during her time in office, Parikh said, “I’ve learned that being a leader is as much empathy as it is dedication.”