After four years as Vice Provost for University Life, Dr. Ajay Nair will depart for Emory in August. Luckily, we caught him before ATL did.
Street: You’re walking onto Emory’s campus for your first real day as Dean of Campus life. What song do you imagine playing from the loudspeakers — figuratively?
Ajay Nair: There are literally hundreds of songs that I’d love to play. You know what it would probably be — and I am sort of a hip-hop aficionado — but it would probably be U2’s Beautiful Day. It’s just one of my favorite songs. It’s actually number one on my playlist; it’s the song I start everything with. It seems very fitting.
Street: So you wouldn’t want to choose a South Asian Hip Hop song (ed note: Dr. Nair edited Desi Rap: Hip Hop and South Asian America in 2007)?
AN: Probably not. I think I would save that for more private settings, for a sort of deeper conversation about my other musical interests. But I do really like all kinds of music.
Street: If you were stuck on an island and could only bring one sweatshirt with you to keep warm, which would you bring: Columbia, UVA, Penn, Emory or — eek — Penn State?
AN: I can only bring one right? You know, it’s got to be Emory looking forward. The shorts would probably say Penn, I’d probably have a t-shirt that says Penn State on it, and maybe a Columbia cap or something, but I think the sweatshirt itself, looking forward, would have to say Emory. But if I could wear lots of different apparel, I’d mix it up a bit. This past weekend I was wearing a pair of Emory basketball shorts and Penn sweatshirt on too — I mixed it up.
Street: What would say is the coolest or strangest piece of Penn paraphernalia that you own?
AN: Oh yeah, I have lots of very strange Penn paraphernalia. They’re all in the form of t-shirts that are neon colored and they all have to do with Fling or Hey Day. On Hey Day and Fling, there’s this tradition [among faculty members] of wearing the brightest t-shirts you could possibly own, and I wear it with pride. They’re all sort of neon green. I will take them with me to Emory and I’m sure I’ll wear them.
Street: What is your best memory from Penn?
AN: I think definitely any classroom experience of teaching. There were hundreds of moments in the classroom when students would say something just brilliant and it would open my eyes to doing things in new ways. I think students don’t always realize they have the capacity to do that for their professors. Those are beautiful moments for me.
Street: Your worst?
AN: That’s tougher for me. I try to see the positive in everything. But, without going into specifics, tragedies I’ve seen here while being on campus. Whether there are students passing away or students getting really ill. I see it all in this position—the really wonderful things and the most terrible things you could imagine.
Street: Which of the objects you have on your desk now will be sitting on your desk at Emory soon?
AN: You’ll see some Snapple over there. Definitely photos of my kids everywhere, they’re a huge part of my life — I have a 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. I’ve got little pieces of art from my daughter. And if you open up my desk drawers, there’s always candy and junk food. I have an obsession with sugar, which I’m trying to kick, but I’ll probably take my drawer with me — I don’t think ill be able to resist.I’ll also have my little basketball hoop—I’m a huge fan of basketball. I’m a die-hard Sixers fan—born and raised in Philly—but also a Lakers fan (Kobe Bryant in particular).
Street: How would you finish the sentence “Welcome to Atlanta where…”?
AN: So who’s my audience? I would probably say to incoming freshman at Emory, “Welcome to Atlanta and welcome to Emory University, your destination University.” I think that’s very much what Emory is looking to cultivate among its students —t o be that sort of destination University. And I think it will be part of my role at the institution as well. “Destination” can mean a lot of things I guess.