Creating Community Around South Asian Culture

Sylvie Corwin, Staff Reporter

The South Asian Students Association (SASA) joined almost 100 official clubs at Whitman earlier this month at an Associated Students of Whitman College (ASWC) Senate meeting.

To gain ASWC recognition, clubs must have a name, an advisor, have been active for at least one semester and submit a club constitution explaining the goal of the club and a plan for engaging with the entire Whitman community. SASA met all these requirements.

“SASA is a great example to have as a club because one: they’re very active, two: they’re very open to everyone on this campus,” senior Fathi Assegaf, director of student organizations, said. “[they’re] ready to educate the entire campus population without losing that aspect that part of their club that provides a safe space for South Asian students.”

Sophomores Shubra Tewari and Rhea Sablani initially began the process of creating SASA during the spring of last year. While they already have the financial support of the intercultural center secured for the upcoming semester, they hope to obtain ASWC funding in the future.

“Until then I just think it will be good to have the ASWC support ‘cause it will make us more accessible to the whole student body,” Tewari said.

To improve the club’s accessibility and prominence on campus SASA is planning a campus-wide Diwali celebration, the Hindu festival of lights, as well as a Holi celebration, the Hindu festival of color. The Diwali festival is planned for Friday, November 9. Tewari and Sablani hope Diwali will become an annual event on campus.

“We are hoping to have some of the events that we do become more of a tradition,” Sablani said. “So hopefully every year there will be a Diwali celebration in the fall and then a Holi celebration in the spring.”

Besides these festivals, SASA has regular meetings every other Wednesday in Reid 240. Their first meeting had numbers in the low twenties.

“We think we have about 10 to 15 consistent members,” Tewari said. “We’re definitely less focused on the numbers of people in our club, we just want whoever is in our club to be focused and committed and be consistently showing up.”

After the Diwali celebration, however, they hope to generate more interest in SASA.

“I think that after we put on one main event that is open to all of campus, people will get a better idea of what we stand for and what they can look forward to from our club so we hope the people in our club increases over time,” Sablani said.

This is not the first time there has been a SASA club on campus.

“When I came to visit, [SASA] was on the club list so I just thought that I would also be involved,” Sablani said. “But then when I got to campus in the fall it had become inactive because the previous officers had graduated.”

Both Sablani and Tawari have siblings who were involved in clubs similar to SASA at the University of Washington. Their siblings’ experiences helped motivate the creation of SASA at Whitman.

“We both had seen what that community can do for someone’s experience in college and then when we came here and found out there wasn’t that kind of community, that’s how we had the idea to start it up again,” Tewari said.

Assegaf found the community aspect of clubs integral to his own experience at Whitman, specifically in the Whitman African Students Association.

“I think clubs have that kind of potential, to really fulfill the needs of students…that aren’t met in the classroom or in res life. I think clubs provide that missing piece to the Whitman experience,” Assegaf said.

Whether students identify as South Asian or not, Tewari and Sablani hope SASA can create community around South Asian culture.

“South Asian students are obviously a minority here, so we thought [SASA would] be a good way to show some visibility and representation for the people here who are South Asian or the people who…want to learn about the culture,” Tewari said.