Hi, I’m Chaya Brennan Agarwal and I could not be more honored to be part of the Baldwin Scholars Class of 2023!
I have bright red hair and pale skin, but I am biracial and I have connected to my Indian roots through an annual festival of South Asian arts that my parents co-founded before I was born. I grew up within a community of musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and other artists who demonstrated the power of activism through art. I witnessed how art could transcend any differences and learned the value of collaboration when organizing such a festival.
I am so lucky to have grown up in such a loving and supportive household with my parents, younger sister, and two cats. I am grateful to have strong and inspiring female role models in my family. My grandmother on my mom’s side went through the Partition of India as an infant and later immigrated to America with two babies of her own. She has always emphasized the importance of investing in a larger community, a value I have always striven to encompass. My mom is also an important role model for me as she has managed to balance her two socially invisible diseases while raising two kids and pursuing a career as a writer of social justice, including contributing to a United Nations’ album fighting human trafficking.
Since I can remember, I have lived in Mar Vista, Los Angeles—an artistic neighborhood a bike ride from Venice Beach and the ocean. I am grateful to have grown up in such a close community with a strong culture and a diverse and quirky collection of people. I was lucky to be included in this artistic community and to be able to develop my own self as a photographer within the professional environment of several gallery exhibitions.
I am passionate about human rights and social activism as I am an activist for gun control and climate change legislation and have witnessed the power of grassroots campaigns influencing change in local communities. I worked as an intern for Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, speaking with constituents, working on local projects, attending community outreach meetings, and photographing events that his office organized. I learned that each step taken by the city government is often met with controversy, and that leadership and openmindedness are necessary to come up with viable solutions. This experience inspired me to be an advocate for positive change not only in my local communities but hopefully in a broader way one day. I plan to major in International Comparative Studies with a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, and I plan to study abroad in Latin America.
At Duke, I am a contributor to Duke’s arts and lifestyle online publication, FORM magazine, as well as a member of two committees of Duke University Union: Duke @ Nite and Special Events. Outside of academics, I enjoy meeting new people and spending afternoons in the Duke Gardens. I am so excited to be part of and learn from this amazing and strong community of women and immersing myself in the values of the Baldwin Scholars program, including leadership, empowerment, inclusivity, and giving back.