Written by Logan Stott, Marketing Assistant
On March 25, RVU announced the start of its second annual Social Justice Champion Contest, which called for nominations of students, alumni, and employees who have demonstrated dedication and a willingness for promoting equality and helping those in need. After the April 22nd nomination deadline passed, the submissions were reviewed and the nominees were judged on their merits. The pool of worthy contenders made judging the competition difficult, but after careful deliberation, a winner and runner-up were selected.
Preetha Rajkumar, OMS III, the founder of No Lost Food, a non-profit organization headquartered in El Paso, Texas, was declared the winner; Zeerak Haider, PhD, MS, Director of Student Life and Special Events, was declared the runner-up. One of SD Rajkumar’s nominators (who wishes to remain anonymous), told RVU that the nominee is “a dedicated champion of social justice, one who is passionate and outspoken on issues of income equality, feminism, and societal equity.” Nadine Taher, OMS III, who nominated Dr. Haider, told RVU that “Dr. Haider has supported and helped spearhead many diversity initiatives at Rocky Vista University,” and that “without her, many students would not have the courage, the resources or the ability to bring all of these projects to life at RVU.”
In addition to free merchandise of their choosing, SD Rajkumar and Dr. Haider both received donations ($1,000.00 for the winner and $500.00 for the runner-up), made in their honor by RVU to the charity of their choice.
Preetha Rajkumar, OMS III
What RVU clubs and activities are you currently involved with?[I’m involved with the] Student Government Association, Student Sustainability Community, Medical Student Advocates for Underserved Populations, American College of Osteopathic Surgeons-Medical Student Section, [and] Community Outreach and Medical Mentors.
What organizations are you currently involved with and in what capacity?
I am the Founder and President of No Lost Food, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization located in El Paso, Texas. I am currently managing the organization remotely with the assistance of my wonderful executive team back home.
Which organization did you choose to donate $1,000 to and why?
No Lost Food is the organization I would like to donate to because we are still small and growing. [The donation] will be very beneficial for building stronger infrastructure and [assisting] in our effort to keep food out of landfills and feed the food-insecure. The money will be put towards general expenses and toward a few of our community pantry programs.
How can someone help specifically with what you are doing and/or with this organization?
Everyone is welcome to help out with No Lost Food, and there is more than one way to help out. People can work with us virtually by creating posters, writing blogs, and doing other things that can be done from the comfort of their homes. If they don’t feel that they are able to do that there is an even simpler way by shopping on Amazon Smile [and] selecting No Lost Food as the organization that they support. It can be as easy as a monetary donation to the organization. We are always happy to branch out if they are ready to take a bigger role in the organization. We can always find some way [for] any interested volunteer to work with us.
Can you tell us more about your work with No Lost Food and what this group has accomplished?
No Lost Food is a 501(c)3 Food Rescue organization that is located in El Paso, Texas. We are focused on making sure food goes to families that are food-insecure and not the landfills. Our organization was founded on the one motto of “Save Food, Reduce Hunger.” It took me about 9 months to get all the back-end work to start this idea into an organization. Once I [got] it running, it took a while to get it off the ground. After some time, our first donation was [four] plates of food from a university-catered event. We used that to advertise our organization and we started to get more interest from the population, and now we are working with various types of food institutes. I am very proud to say that I have been able to [turn] this idea into a full-blown organization and grow it to the stage [it is in] now.
We have been able to implement educational seminars for the community, to learn more about what we do and how they will be able to help us and the environment. We are currently offering scholarships to high school students in the El Paso region, to help them achieve their goals of higher education. Another major project is our community pantry, which aims to provide a little supplemental help for the families that are food-insecure. These are just some of the few things we have been working on that are outside of our regular donation pick-up from stores, restaurants, bakeries, and individual donors. We have also been selected as one of the Top 50 Finalists in the Classy Awards for 2022. Additionally, we have been given the Great Nonprofits 2021 Certificate by Great Nonprofit. It brings much joy to see all the things we have done in [these] past [four] years and excited to see what we can do moving forward.
For those who want to become more involved in social justice work, especially medical/graduate/physician assistant students with a heavy academic workload, what advice do you have for them?
It is very demanding to be a student of the sciences in general, and being involved with social justice work adds another level of complexity. However, if anyone is truly passionate about a cause, they should get involved. This is where many people think, “Oh my god, I won’t ever have free time to relax with all the studying and the organization work.” This is also where I would like to say that being involved does not always [mean you have] to be knee-deep in something. It can be as simple as sharing that organization’s posts on social media and helping spread awareness or attending one of their events from time to time to connect with people and mobilize your resources for them. Being involved with a cause that you are passionate about should not be hard, but [your involvement] may have to be [based] on your priorities. I would like to [tell] everyone who is interested in a cause to look at their schedule and list of priorities and see where they can fit in the time for the organization. You would have to see if you are willing to sacrifice some other personal time to work [knee-deep for a cause.] If you think your schedule cannot be changed, then start small by promoting the cause and slowly adding more as you get more time or feel the ability to rework your schedule. It is always an evolving process when you are passionate and want to support a cause, because over time the cause’s needs may also change. So we have to be open-minded and [not] limit ourselves to the dictionary [definition] of [involvement].
Will you pursue work on this social justice issue as a physician? If so, in what ways?
I will, of course, continue running No Lost Food, like I am [currently], and [will continue to do so] even [after becoming] a resident and physician. The [issues] of food insecurity and hunger [are topics] I am very passionate about. I plan to keep growing the organization and branching out to support more populations and increase education about product dating. One of the ultimate goals is to bring more clarification to the terms and regulations surrounding such issues. In the future, I will advocate for more changes and policy clarifications for issues faced by the population my organization serves.
Zeerak Haider, PhD
Which organization did you choose to donate $500 to and why?
I would like to donate to the Muslimah Changemakers Scholarship (Bayan Academy) to help Muslim women receive [the] education to serve and support as Muslim Chaplains. There is a lack of female scholarships available to Muslim women, and this scholarship (and Bayan program) will allow [female Muslim] students to receive a Master’s degree in Muslim Chaplaincy, so that they can serve the Muslim community in hospitals, [the] prison system, higher education, etc.
Can you tell us more about your diversity efforts at RVU, and what these groups have accomplished?
I have had the honor of creating and cultivating the foundation for DEI efforts. Upon recognizing the gap and dearth of DEI efforts when I started six years ago, I developed the Days of Diversity [program] and established the first-ever RVU Student Diversity Committee. The Days of Diversity [program] was a week-long effort focused on inviting and educating the RVU community to participate [in celebrating] the diversity amongst us. This effort served as the catalyst for an in-depth training effort, which resulted in the Unconscious Bias and Structural Racism training with the Groundwater program [in January 2020].
I also served as the advisor to SNMA and supported them with the program development of the MC2 + RVU immersion program to [introduce] underrepresented minority students [to] osteopathic medicine. With the SNMA executive board, we established a monthly programming initiative to recognize Black History Month, LGBTQIA and PRIDE week, National Hispanic Heritage Month, the Women in Medicine campaign, Asian American History Month, [Religions] Around the World, and established the International Feast of Flavors as a tradition on campus.
As the advisor of the SGA DEIB task force, [I] guided students [toward] creating an inclusive, equity-focused environment with the launch of the Annual DEI Summit in 2020. For the past two years, this summit has empowered students to curate co-curricular content that equips them [with] knowledge, skills, and awareness to apply to their future healthcare [professions]. Additionally, this year, I have developed Inclusive Leadership training for all student leaders to apply in their current roles, with an intention for this knowledge to be carried forth in their careers.
For those who want to become more involved in social justice work, what advice do you have for them?
First, understand and learn what social justice is and what it means. Second, gain clarity on how social justice and medicine go [hand-in-hand]. Third, [learn] skills that you, as a future healthcare provider, will use to help your patients and the communities they live in. Clubs and organizations are a great way to start your journey while you are in medical school. Set the intention to make a change and you will!
How do you see the role of the osteopathic physician, or the osteopathic medical profession as a whole, in advancing social justice?
I [see the] osteopathic medical profession advancing social justice by ensuring that students can explore social issues in the core curriculum. [All] students need access and opportunity to this information, along with a trained professional facilitating conversation about these issues. When students learn how systemic racism causes health disparities, and [how] they can make an impact as healthcare workers, then things will change.
If you would like to contribute to either of the charitable causes championed by the finalists of this competition, you may click here for information on donations and volunteering for No Lost Food, or click here to donate to the Muslimah Changemaker Scholarship crowdfunding campaign.