Illustration by Dina Mobaraki

Meet Baishakhi Taylor: The Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs

Baishakhi Taylor was named the new Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. We sat down with Taylor three weeks after she assumed the position for a conversation about her background, her move to Abu Dhabi and her hopes for NYUAD.

Sep 26, 2022

Born and raised in Kolkata, India, Baishakhi Taylor’s background plays a huge role in how she relates with the world. While her father’s family came to India from Bangladesh, her mother’s family is from West Bengal, India. Her parents had an inter-caste love marriage, a rare occurrence in India in the early 70s.
“The history of South Asia has played a huge role in how I look at the world,” shared Taylor as she recounted the challenges of the caste system that are prevalent even today.
Hailing from a long line of female educators in her family, Taylor recalls education being heavily emphasized in her formative years. “My parents were very clear that I had to go to college,” shared Taylor. Her father was involved in the early stages of the communist movement in India, and the ideology of gender equality made women’s education an important part of his parenting. “The legacies of colonialism or being able to critique it was formative,” she recalled.
She recalled books being the thing she enjoyed most when she was younger. “I decided to study comparative literature because then I would get to read books from all over the world,” she explained as she spoke about her undergraduate studies in India.
“I was very interested in women’s writing and representation but circa ‘98, there was no Women’s Studies degree in Kolkata,” she said as she spoke about the power of representation in pre-internet Bollywood, while making sure to clarify how problematic she thinks Bollywood is at the same time.
She then went on to pursue her Master’s degree in Women’s Studies at University of Northern Iowa, making a move to the United States. Her PhD was in Sociology, with a focus on Gender and Equality.
Taylor recalled how a side effect of her move to the States was experiencing a radical shift in perspective toward the world. “I just didn’t know how privileged I was in India… I didn’t even understand the power of center/margin dichotomy and the challenges. I would have never understood it if I never went to the U.S.,” she reflected.
“As soon as I landed in the U.S., I suddenly realized I was on the margins… my jaw would hurt speaking in English, I didn’t speak in English all the time [before that],” she explained while also acknowledging the great things that came with moving as well, explaining how there are trade-offs in the case of such radical shifts. For instance, she talked about being not just a physical immigrant, but also a “digital immigrant” as she had never owned a computer or any technology before.
Throughout her career in administration, Taylor has stayed in touch with academia and research. She taught at Middlebury College as a professor of gender, sexuality and feminist studies and in recent years, is working on collaborative research.
“I have worked with Professor Kathy Ewing at Columbia University in the U.S. and we are really looking at identities of individuals who are transformation seekers,” shared Taylor as she spoke more about her recent projects.
Taylor did not believe that taking on administrative responsibilities was a shift from academia. “I see my work in support of the academic mission. And because our students live on campus, learning happens both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Taylor as she spoke about her job being at the intersection of academic success and holistic wellbeing of the students.
When asked about her recent transition to NYUAD, Taylor talked about the rarity of such an opportunity. “How often would I, or any of us who are in the US, get an opportunity to be a part of a global liberal arts institution with research, and just the diversity of the student body,” she exclaimed.
Taylor calls both India and the U.S. home, and her proximity to family in India was one of the factors that informed her decision to move. “On days that I’m sad [about being on the other side of the world from her family] I have to remind myself that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to call both sides of the world home,” she shared.
Still in the phase of settling in, Taylor talked about learning when asked about what changes she envisions for our community. “I don’t necessarily always think someone new comes in and needs to change things. I think I really need to learn and see what we can do better,” she emphasized.
Although she says she is still in the learning phases of the job as well as exploring Abu Dhabi, she is extremely sure of one thing — that students are at the heart and center of her agenda. Talking about her communication style, Taylor emphasized how important it is for her to stay in conversation with students. “If the choice is between me doing something personal, or meeting with the student, I will always meet the student… all of you should feel free to come in just any time. If I’m not in a meeting, come in,” she said.
Associate Vice Chancellor Taylor has transitioned through multiple roles at various liberal arts institutions like Duke University, Smith College and Middlebury College, and in her time, has worked with diverse student bodies. “I’m going to paraphrase President Obama, part of what we do at institutions of learning and in leadership roles is be able to sit with the discomfort of duality or multiplicity,” she reflected when asked about navigating tense and difficult situations in a student body as diverse as NYUAD’s.
“To me, listening is a radical act,” Taylor shared, talking about the importance of staying engaged in discourse through conflict. “It’s hard and it’s an ideal and that’s why we strive towards it,” she said.
As a message for the student body as the new Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Taylor quoted Toni Morrison, and said, “Dreaming is an active work. And I would encourage all students to dream the world as it ought to be… we are here to support [you] in those aspirations and in [your] learning.”
As she begins to settle into NYUAD and learn about and engage with it more, Taylor hopes to find respite and joy in paddle boarding at the mangroves. Very soon, she hopes to have her dogs, Kaya and Blue, join our community and you may find her walking them around campus.
Sameera Singh is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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