Lilly Kanishka

Student Perspectives

A director, a student, an activist.

Lilly Kanishka was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a first-generation university student. Her parents are refugees from Afghanistan who came to the United States 30 years ago. While growing up and attending predominantly white schools, she remembers the prevalence of Islamophobia especially after the events of September 11th.

“I was raised Muslim, so that was something very different in relation to my peers,” Kanishka said. “That was hard to navigate.”

I’ve also experienced a lot of discrimination that I hadn’t experienced before coming to college

As Kanishka continued her education, she describes her experiences at the U as being both challenging and rewarding at the same time. “Once I came to college, I started meeting a lot more diverse individuals and hearing other people’s stories I started to become more and more comfortable with my identity,” Kanishka says. “But I’ve also experienced a lot of discrimination that I hadn’t experienced before coming to college, which definitely made me feel unsafe at times, unwelcome at times, scared for my future, scared for my friends.” Her experiences and passion for social justice has become the driving force for her involvement in student organizations.

For two years, Kanishka has served as the Director of Diversity for the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU). She is an active member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, a Peer Advisor for the LEAP Health Sciences program, a volunteer at Bennion Center, a volunteer at Maliheh Free Clinic, a volunteer tutor at East High School and a past participant of the Muslim Student Association and the Asian American Student Association.

“Leadership is important to me. And it’s rare to see my identity represented in leadership positions here at the U. I’d like to challenge that by setting an example and mentoring incoming students of color so that we can change the leadership culture,” says Kanishka.

[C.O.D.E. is] a platform where you can start or advance your learning on topics about diversity, social justice, privilege, identity and allyship.

In her many roles, Kanishka’s main goal is to create opportunities and spaces for conversations that impact the U’s racial campus climate. She accomplishes this every year by leading the annual Conference on Diverse Excellence (C.O.D.E), which is a conference designed to educate on social awareness, inclusion, and intersecting identities. “It’s a platform where you can start or advance your learning on topics about diversity, social justice, privilege, identity and allyship.” Kanishka hopes that students attending C.O.D.E gain a better understanding of the experiences and perspectives of their peers. She explains that C.O.D.E is merely the beginning of a conversation that provides the tools needed for students to continue the dialogue.

Currently, Kanishka is a senior pre-medicine student majoring in anthropology with a health emphasis and minoring in biology and chemistry. She plans to attend the University of Utah’s School of Medicine after graduation with aims to practice medicine in underrepresented communities. She is especially interested in serving as an example to children with similar upbringing as hers. She wants to continue learning, growing and staying involved in social justice work.


Campus Climate, Culture, Experiences, Social Justice