Following in the family’s footsteps isn’t something that appeals to everyone, but Shalini A. Persaud has little desire to deviate from the path laid by her relatives’ humanitarian commitments. In fact, she wants to do more.
Shalini is currently pursuing dual degrees at the Tulane University School of Social Work. When she graduates in December, she’ll have a Master of Social Work and a Master of Science in Disaster Resilience Leadership. She plans on applying what she’s learned to organizations that provide services to vulnerable communities affected by disasters.
While she grew up in Minnesota, Shalini’s family has roots in northern India, where her grandmother founded a school for underserved children. In India, Shalini spent time in Mussoorie and Dehradun and met people without consistent access to food and clean water. “That reality would get worse when natural disasters occurred, and they would have to move into cities to find work and resources,” said Shalini.
She became interested in the mechanisms of how disaster displacement happens, social structures respond, and how access to services allows for recovery. “I wanted to see how all those things fit together and learn ways to prevent people from falling through the cracks in the system when a disaster happens,” said Shalini.
As an undergraduate at Tulane, Shalini studied sociology and economics but soon found herself attracted to social work. “Social work gives me tangible skills to help people when systems are not supporting them,” she said. "The field provides a deep understanding of how people function on their good and bad days. After a disaster, it helps to know what is happening at both a macro and a micro level, so that you can strategize practically and effectively to meet people’s needs.”
Tulane’s field education program has provided Shalini with opportunities to apply her classroom knowledge and research. She was a clinical social work intern with Loyola University Counseling Center and is currently serving with the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP). At NOHSEP, she is on the NOLA Ready team and is drafting a language access plan for them. She recently responded to the Hard Rock Hotel Collapse and helped with operations of the Mental Health Resource Center that the city provided to people affected by the collapse. “Providing mental health services after a disaster helps survivors process the event, minimize acute stress and negative outcomes, and helps restore their functioning,” Shalini said.
Having lived in New Orleans since 2010, Shalini loves the cultural resilience of the city. “There’s a sense of togetherness and celebration here,” she said. “When something bad happens, there is always that to return to.”