Photo by Melinda Szekeres/The Gazelle

The Balance of Principle and Practicality for Cultural SIGs

When I applied to be president of TASHAN, I did so because I believed that South Asian cultures needed to be better represented on campus than they had ...

May 7, 2016

Photo by Melinda Szekeres/The Gazelle
When I applied to be president of TASHAN, I did so because I believed that South Asian cultures needed to be better represented on campus than they had been in the past. The platform I submitted read, “Whilst dialogue on mainstream issues should continue to take place, I hope to organize more events that tap into the immense cultural output South Asia has been producing, even during times of distress. These include poetry meets, round table conversations on cinema and art in South Asia and events that explore the place South Asians occupy in the city.”
Now that my tenure as TASHAN President has ended, my perception on what a cultural Student Interest Group can do is wildly different.
Before I dive into what I think cultural SIGs need to do in order to hold successful events, I think it is important to note what they should do, in principle. As far as a  SIG like TASHAN or Latinoamérica is concerned, the main objective should be to represent the cultures within places like South Asia and Latin America as fairly as possible. By fairly I mean that students running cultural SIGs should make an honest attempt to represent the different aspects of various cultures. Pakistan Night for instance, needs to represent Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as much as it represents the traditionally dominant Punjab. Beyond food and dance based events, cultural SIGs should strive to provoke discussions on culture. This semester I realized that it is harder than I initially thought to provoke these discussions.
One of the things I looked forward to most this semester was holding an event with the UAE Club to discuss the place of South Asians in this city and how Emiratis and South Asians perceive each other. Attendance was abysmal, despite the best efforts of students from both TASHAN and the UAE Club. The reason why I organized this event with TASHAN was because I believe that, when it comes to discussing South Asians at this university, we only discuss labor workers. Sure, we need to continue the discussion on labor conditions in the UAE, but South Asians play a much bigger role in this country. From what I understood, there seemed to be a demand to discuss South Asian culture and South Asians in a formal setting. Apparently, I was wrong.
Then came Latino Night. The event was spectacular. The reaction was extremely positive. I commend everyone that worked so hard to make the event such a resounding success. However, even when Latino Night included multiple Latin American countries, it is difficult to represent one entire region in one single event. If a SIG’s role is to represent the different aspects of the cultures it represents, then I am not sure that can be done in one night, let alone a week or a month. In my view, Latino Night reaffirmed that it is nearly impossible to represent a region fairly through a SIG. Yet, our student body is more interested in big, bold events than in nuance. As far as TASHAN is concerned, people will always be willing to throw around colors or sing and dance to Bollywood songs at Holi or Diwali, respectively.
As our campus gets bigger, I think this issue will resolve itself. Currently, we do not have a student body large enough to support these smaller events. People either turn up at the biggest events, or at none at all. Admittedly, I attend events in the same way. Where does this trend leave cultural SIGs? If they want students to attend events, SIGs will have to ignore what they should do in favor of what they need to do: they will have to embrace and promote the same stereotypes they sought to dispel in the first place.
Muhammad Usman is features editor. Email them at
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