In the summer of 2019, Hunter’s incoming USG president, Devashish Basnet, found himself at the southern border of the United States. As an intern with the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organization, he went from preparing reports and learning technical skills in New York to assisting migrants in Arizona.
Basnet was in the midst of the border crisis. He came across many people who had fled their homes for survival and in search of better opportunities.
“You see beyond the numbers. You see them not as figures, but as people,” he said in an interview with The Envoy.
During his time there, Basnet helped manage a welcome center that provided migrants with food, a place to sleep, medical and mental health checkups, activities for children, a legal orientation to the U.S. and more. He said the experience greatly impacted his future.
“Being able to form those connections with people confirmed that public service is the life I belong in,” he said, “whether it’s in a literal way of a water bottle and a smile, or in a more impactful way through public policy and writing impactful legislation that centers the migrant and emphasizes humane policies.”
Basnet’s experiences and passion for helping others have put him on a path of public service that he plans to stay on for the rest of his life.
A rising senior, Basnet majors in political science and public policy and minors in human rights and Asian American studies. He is one of USG’s junior senators and an alternate delegate for the CUNY’s University Student Senate. He is also a Roosevelt Scholar and a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
From Nepal to Queens and Back Again
Basnet’s passion for public service can be traced to his own immigration story. When he was born in 2000, Nepal was in the midst of civil unrest. There was an ongoing civil war between the Nepalese state and the Maoists, an extremist group that sought to replace Nepal’s constitutional monarchy with a communist republic through violent measures. Feeling that their country was not a safe place to live, Basnet and his family immigrated to Woodside, Queens in 2005.
Ever since then, Basnet said he has always been drawn to finding ways to improve the lives of those around him.
“I explored different career options but I’ve always been drawn to public speaking and what it means to be a voice and a champion for others that don’t have the ability to articulate what they want to say, or what they want to convey,” he said. “So, I started thinking more deeply about the role I wanted to play.”
On a trip back to Nepal in his senior year of high school, Basnet observed many people in his hometown living in poverty. That’s when he took his paycheck of about $250 he had just received from working at Chipotle, converted it to Nepali rupees and donated the money to his previous elementary school to help provide multiple students with school supplies for about a year. And after he realized how far 250 American dollars could go in Nepal, he wanted to go even further.
With help from his high school, he started a one-time sponsorship initiative that allowed students in Nepal to attend elementary school without worrying about the costs. They raised over $1,000, or 116,000 Nepali rupees, and it was enough to cover all of the 125 students for a school year.
Road to Hunter USG
Basnet came to Hunter in 2018 as part of the Roosevelt House Scholar program, which is for students who are passionate about civic engagement and public affairs. While he was excited for that opportunity, he was concerned about how he would pay for school since DACA students are ineligible for federal financial aid. Different states have different rules regarding state financial aid for DACA students. In January 2019, DACA students became eligible for New York State financial aid with the passing of the Senator José Peralta DREAM Act.
After paying for his first semester completely out of pocket, he turned to Hunter officials for assistance. With their help, he applied to Roosevelt House’s Eva Kastan Grove scholarship, which is now covering all his tuition costs through its fund for children of immigrants.
From then on, Basnet has used his free time to assist other students so they can get opportunities as well. He said he has helped about 15 students with their resumes. He also sometimes sends information on academic and financial opportunities to his friends and other students he is acquainted with via text message.
“I went through this, you don’t have to go through this thing,” he said of his thought process when helping other students. “Here’s what I’ve done, here’s what I’ve experienced, how can you get the same or even better experiences than I did?”
Although Basnet served as student government president in high school, he was hesitant about joining Hunter USG. At Hicksville High, he said he felt that there was too much focus on planning pizza parties or other events rather than doing substantial work. But things changed when one of his close friends, Mayar Safwat, who was serving in USG at the time, challenged his notion of student government and convinced him to run for office.
“She said to me, ‘You need to run. You’re a student leader, you need to be able to help make decisions and do work that’s meaningful on campus. Yes, planning events is part of it. But there’s so much more.’”
Basnet learned that soon enough. Throughout his time at Hunter, he’s been a vocal member of the Hunter and CUNY communities.
While running for USG junior senator, Basnet co-wrote an op-ed for The Envoy about what it means to build a progressive undergraduate student government. As part of CUNY’s USS, he voted in support of the USS’s resolution for CUNY’s flexible credit/no credit grading policy, which was later passed by CUNY’s board of trustees.
Recently, he and USG junior senator Salwa Najmi presented a resolution to USS that requested a meeting with the CUNY board of trustees and CUNY chancellor to discuss CUNY recognizing Eid al-Fitr as a holiday and giving students the day off. Although USS unanimously passed the resolution in an emergency meeting on March 14, Najma did not hear back from anyone at CUNY and classes were still held on Eid al-Fitr.
Outgoing USG president Hardik Bhaskar has also worked with Basnet over the past year. Aside from being vocal, Bhaskar said that Basnet’s approachable nature makes him easy to work with and can help him be a mediator between students and administration.
“I feel like everybody would be comfortable talking to him,” Bhaskar said. “And he loves talking to people. I think that’s really important.”
Dreams of a Better World
When asked about his future plans, Basnet said he does not have one specific job position in mind. But whatever he does, he wants to serve others through systemic change.
He plans to pursue a degree in immigration law and another degree in migration studies so that he can understand the topics on a grand scale. With that education, he hopes to become a government official or another type of policymaker so that he can create and enforce top-down approaches that directly benefit the lives of people everywhere. Along with that, he is considering teaching because he wants to help “change the hearts and minds of young people.”
Basnet said that he’s been accused of being too cynical. Whether he finds fault in the U.S. prison system or immigration system, critics say he is never happy and that he always finds a problem with everything in society. But he said that there is nothing wrong with imagining a society that is drastically better.
“I can genuinely challenge the status quo,” he said. “I can dream of a better world in lots of ways, whether it’s a world without police, a world without prisons, a world without restrictive borders, a world without immigration systems that are punitive, a world without all these restrictions on freedoms.”
In fact, Basnet also said that his work as a public servant calls on him to be “radically optimistic.” He said that radical optimism is necessary to change society in a way that truly serves everyone.
“We need more radical optimism in this world to challenge current systems and structures. And then once we can challenge it, we can use and channel that optimism to create a world that is far better than the one we have right now.”
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