Glamour magazine’s “Top10 College Women,” an annual feature that honours young leaders, had a rare inclusion this year: a Canadian. Trinity College student Jasmeet Sidhu, 21, was selected from among thousands of applicants for the distinction. It seems impossible not to notice Sidhu, who had founded an environmental alliance, earned a prestigious BMO Scholarship to U of T, worked on HIV-AIDS projects in Africa and written for the Toronto Star – all by the age of 20. “What links all of these issues for me is a broader picture about social justice,” says Sidhu, who is a fourth-year peace and conflict studies specialist. “I see journalism as a part of that, too. You call attention to the issues to care about.”
At 16, Sidhu founded a high school environment club, but found it tough to get it going and to work with administrative bureaucracy. Realizing that students at other schools must be facing similar hurdles, she created the Peel Environmental Youth Alliance, an umbrella organization to co-ordinate efforts and to educate environmental activists. At 19, she became the youngest person ever to serve on the Toronto Star’s community editorial board. Sidhu wrote a series of op-ed pieces for the newspaper, covering gender inequality in Canadian politics, domestic violence, immigration and resources for HIV-positive women. “The biggest thing that has motivated me is that I’m an immigrant myself,” says Sidhu, whose family emigrated from Malaysia when she was 11 months old. “I was always aware that I could have been growing up in very different circumstances.”
Last year, Sidhu visited Namibia with a small group of students led by U of T anthropology professor Richard Lee. For four months she worked on several projects, such as helping to set up community support groups with the International Community of Women Living with HIV-AIDS. “I was already involved in the issue, but going to a country where 20 per cent of the population has HIV-AIDS was shocking,” she says.
Sidhu still writes for the Star – she is covering the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen for the paper – and now blogs for the Huffington Post, thanks to a chance meeting with a Huffington editor at the Glamour awards luncheon in New York.
“My mother used to deliver the Star, so I feel like things have come full circle,” says Sidhu. “My parents made sacrifices so that I would have these opportunities.”
Watch a video clip of Jasmeet Sidhu: