It was her freshman year in college, and there was chaos at home. Senior Joyti Jiandani’s then-2-year-old niece, Falehah, was being observed by doctors.
Falehah’s nonresponsive nature and inability to communicate led doctors to diagnose her as deaf.
“Things weren’t looking good,” Jiandani said, remembering a year full of fear and anxiety.
As a biology major at Ithaca College, Jiandani saw this upsetting news as a window into a new way of understanding and decided to change her major to speech-language pathology.
“My sister told me they had to go see a speech pathologist,” Jiandani said. “So I did my research, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’ I switched my second semester freshman year, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Since switching her major, Jiandani has found she is able to translate medical terminology for her family. Her sister Tamana Jiandani said hearing Jiandani had switched her major was uplifting.
“I was very happy and really excited because she wanted to do biology and then all of a sudden she was like, ‘No I’m going to help take care of your daughter. When I learn everything it will be better for you,’” Tamana said.
Solving problems is innate for Jiandani. Being a first-generation college student from New York City, she said she often questions cultural and racial issues she sees on campus.
Though she has primarily taken science courses, Jiandani found the time over the years to discuss these societal issues with peers. Now, she serves as a co-chair of the President’s Host Committee and president of the Student to Student Mentoring Program and works as a Diversity Peer Educator.
As her Indian name suggests, Jiandani provides a “light” for students on campus questioning their racial identity. Jiandani helped junior Ariel Lawrence rethink her role on campus after the two started working together on Jiandani’s Dana Internship research project, “The ALANA Experience on a Predominately White Campus,” which was presented at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research this year.
Lawrence said when she first arrived on the campus her freshman year, Jiandani’s involvement made her someone she wanted to get to know.
“She was on a lot of people’s tongues,” Lawrence said. “There are only about 600 [ALANA] students on campus, so you know who people are, especially who the big players are. She was one of them.”
Lawrence helped Jiandani present the project at NCUR. She said her eloquence when speaking about racial issues on campus is inspiring.
“She’s one of the few students I know who is really well equipped at coming at one problem from a lot of different angles,” Lawrence said. “She’s the one who rallies us. Just having the cojones to do a project that has the potential to challenge this campus’s notions of diversity as well as its diversity campaign shows her passion.”
Orlando-Marquez Kittrell, director of the college’s Office of State Grants, worked with Jiandani to create a proposal for her state-funded research project. He said his experiences with Jiandani have shown how conscientious she is of new ideas and diverse opinions.
“She is willing to ask questions and is optimistically determined to find plausible answers,” Kittrell said. “She always displays respect, dignity and enthusiasm for any counter arguments.”
With graduation approaching, Jiandani has career decisions and questions looming over her head. Should she go to graduate school to continue her study of speech-language pathology or work with children?
She said her idealist nature has kept her juggling everything she wants to do.
“I can go anywhere,” she said. “Certain days I’m like, ‘I love elementary school students. I can do so much.’ But middle school is where the most help is really needed because that’s the age when everything changes. If I could just get in there and change everything, I know we will make a difference.”
Jiandani will present her research on the race-related experiences of ALANA students on a predominately white campus at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Textor 103.