This week, the founding members of the newly-formed South Asian and Caribbean Student Initiative (SACSI) provided some insight into the club’s formation, what we can expect to see from them and how they think they can make Wheaton more comfortable for students.
President Aeshah Farrouq ’19, treasurer Sohier Mobin, secretary Sharmeen Inaam and Ashraya Sapkota ’20 began this initiative with a common feeling: there was a lack of representation for students of South Asian descent or those from the Indian Diaspora on campus. They felt that students from these groups needed a presence on campus. Mobin said, “Specifically, South Asian culture is not really prevalent on Wheaton’s campus, and so we really wanted to bring that forward and have more…representation of that.”
Many of the SACSI members remember the difficulties of their respective freshman years, and they believe that a small community or a family can make the transition into college tremendously easier. Farrouq said, “The way I made my friends my freshman year, there were like less than 10 of us and now there are so many South and Southeast Asian students, and because of that we were able to bond really quickly.”
A club like this can be especially important for international students who often find it difficult to adjust to life abroad. SASCI hopes to give South Asian students a home away from home, and to provide comfort and solidarity for the growing number of South Asian students on campus.
“It’s an organization that focuses on cultural awareness and programming around issues and cultural aspects that relate to Asia and the diaspora,” said Farrouq. “Personally, I am Indo-Caribbean, and that is a whole diaspora that needs to be talked about.”
The club also plans to clarify misunderstandings and to act as representatives of its cultures, educating other students about differences that exist within cultural groups. About her and Mobin, Inaam said, “We are both Pakistani, but Sohier lived in Dubai most of her life. [We] want to address cultural difference, not necessarily cultural ignorance, but misunderstandings, such as people thinking we are Indian even though we are not Indian…there are cultural differences, and we want to educate and address them, and show people the right way.”
Sapkota and the other founding members wanted to use SACSI to bring awareness to issues within that region because they find that Americans can be somewhat Eurocentric at times. They believe it is especially imperative to address issues outside of America, and there’s many issues in Asia and South Asia that they would love to bring to the fore through the club.
Although the Asian Student Association (ASA) already exists as a place for Asian students to come together and feel welcome, SASCI’s founders were concerned that some might feel excluded or forgotten as a result of the sheer number and density of cultural groups under the Asian umbrella. According to Farrouq, it was “easy to get swept under the rug. When a lot of students imagine Asian, they think of East Asian. When you don’t have people who are represented by this club, it’s very hard to feel part of it, and it is very easy to feel excluded.”
People can expect plenty of discussions about identity and the experiences of club members at SASCI’s events and meetings, where the club’s founders also hope to remove stigmas from certain aspects of their cultures.
“Because the millennial generations are super different from older generations, our ways of thinking have also changed, and we wanna show how we wanna impact that where we come from,” said Inaam. “Also, we were even gonna do a few religious events to show people how we practice our religion, not necessarily the right way, but the general way rather than the skewed version. And we want to talk about it from our perspective because we come from there, we come from those families, we live there.”
Around Wheaton, Holi is celebrated on the last day of classes. However, it is actually intended to be celebrated around March, a mistake the club wishes to correct. The founders are also interested in showing films from India and Pakistan. For example, the Pakistani film “Bol” focuses on transgender rights and issues in Pakistan, exposing the fact that transgender rights are actually much better in Pakistan than they are in America.
Inaam shared, “When I came to the U.S. for the first time, I was actually afraid I would be the only Pakistani, but I was just lucky. Had I not been in my year, I don’t know what I would’ve done, and we need this sort of foundation for even after we graduate. There’s something for everybody else if more people continue to come.”
The South Asian and Caribbean Student Initiative hopes to help South Asian and Caribbean students feel more united and prouder of their identity, as well as to ensure that they feel as comfortable and at home at Wheaton as possible. They also intend to educate other students and the general public about South Asian culture. As Inaam put it, “We simply want inclusivity from everybody.”