Club feature: South Asian Student Society

Encouraging and celebrating various cultures on campus

The South Asian Student Society is a club at Allegheny designed not only to bring those of South Asian cultures together, but also to involve students from any background who are interested in celebrating and learning more about the different cultures.

Co-President of SASS Medha Nag, ’20, who was born in Calcutta, India, and grew up in Bombay, said that SASS provides a “safe place and a fun place for all the South Asian students on campus, where we celebrate our culture with each other but also with the college campus.”

There is often a misconception that the club experiences when they are signing people up for the email list: Many students will object that they are not South Asian so they can’t join, but that is not the case. The goal is “immersion of other people and bridging the gap,” according to Nag.

The club makes it easier for those away from home to not miss it as much, bringing the culture to Allegheny so they themselves can celebrate it, “but also bringing our home here so people can understand the different culture and really appreciate the diversity that is there at Allegheny,” Nag said.

“Everybody’s welcome,” said Rithikaa Sree Jamigumpala, ’22, who is from Chennai, India. The board members made a point of emphasizing that their events are “inclusive to the whole community,” Nag said.

SASS events typically take place in the Henderson Campus Center lobby, making campus outreach easier, especially for a smaller club.

“(Students) see all the dazzle and food and think, ‘I want some,’” said Nag, noting that a lot of students are also attracted to henna artwork.

Diwali, otherwise known as the “festival of lights” in many South Asian cultures, is the club’s next event, which will be held on Nov. 21 in the campus center lobby — and there is sure to be lots of dazzle. In lieu of the traditional celebrations with fireworks,  there will be sparklers and plenty of food. Co-Presidents Nag and Sweta Rauniyar, ’21, and board members joked about the old adage: the key to someone’s heart is through their stomach. For Diwali and all events, SASS members spend a great deal of time crafting their menus.

More than good food — though that is no trivial matter —and beautiful decorations is a rich culture with many variations across countries and even within countries.

“We’re all from different countries,” Nag said. “Even within that same country we don’t speak the same languages.”

Nag emphasized the wide range of “diversity” among countries and cultures of this part of the world. There are, however, similar cultural and spiritual values, according to Dakchyata Thapa, ’22, who, like Rauniyar, is from Kathmandu, Nepal. For example, Tsumai Ngn, ’22, SASS event manager, said the festival of lights is about “prosperity,” and “how good won over evil,” Jamigumpala added.

A key difference between the style of broader American culture and South Asian cultures can be described in two words: “More people.” Festivals last longer, often because, board members report, people go visit one family on one day and another family on another day. Neighbors get involved, and “everybody becomes your family,” Jamigumpala said.

“It’s a lot of connections with families and communities,” Thapa said, while Nag added, “Let’s just say that the minimum people invited to my future wedding will be at least one thousand.”

But recreating that joy at Allegheny is not easy. Though SASS is bolstered by the international community, because it is small, funding can pose difficulties along with transportation, given that many members are international students without licenses, compounded by the need for authentic ingredients and materials.

“We often have to make trips to Pittsburgh or Erie,” Rauniyar said.

Even with the difficulties, though, their events can often have as many as 200 people in attendance.

Board members will start meetings playing Bollywood music, and spend idle time reminiscing and laughing about things that unite them, even with the diverse nature of their cultures. As the group looks ahead to this year, they are planning a Bollywood night in October, along with Diwali in November, and their hope for this year is to get more people involved. Nag said that the club has been more Hindu in the past, and board members are “reaching out to those with different religions and cultures.”

As members of SASS look ahead to future events like Diwali, the group reiterated that any Allegheny students are welcome to join the club, and share in festival celebrations and learning about different cultures on campus.