As dean of the School of Management, Upinder Dhillon is all business. But one week each year, he leaves campus and goes to camp: specifically, Sikh youth camp.
Camp Khanda, near Syracuse, offers immersion in the Sikh faith and culture for children ages 8 to 18. Dhillon has been the camp’s director for four years.
Sikhs suffer from mistaken identity, Dhillon says. “People don’t know who we are. People look at me and say I’m an Arab or I’m from Iran. Pick the country, and whomever we’re in conflict with, I’m from there,” he says. “I can take it, I’m an adult, but for kids it becomes very difficult.”
The camp’s purpose is to make kids proud to be Sikh.
““If you have a different identity, kids need to understand what it stands for,” Dhillon says. “Until they really can understand it, they will feel that it’s unnecessary.”
Dhillon has been involved in various Sikh camps for 16 years. At Camp Khanda, his wife, Sadev ’92 and ’95, is the nurse and his youngest son, Tejpal, 26, is a counselor.
A day at camp begins with prayer followed by classes in music, history and Punjabi. Afternoon activities include archery, BB gun target shooting (“I’m a reasonable shot,” Dhillon says) and bhangra, a traditional dance. After dinner come campfires and discussion groups, a chance for campers to dig deeper into what it means to be Sikh in America.
‘The kids love it,” Dhillon says.
And so does he.
“For me, it’s tremendous. I get a window on the next generation of kids. I work hard that week, but I come back with more energy.”