Graphic by Rosy Tahan

An examination of Cultural SIGs

Student Government is under increased pressure to decide on how to treat single-national cultural SIGs that represent areas otherwise encompassed by a supernational SIG.

Nov 5, 2016

Since the establishment of the Pakistan Student Association in 2014, the relevance of single-nation cultural Student Interest Groups has been debated on campus as the number of SIGs grows and the funding per SIG shrinks. The topic re-emerged at the Oct. 9 General Assembly. The Student Government’s Student Funding Board is under increased pressure to decide how to treat single-national cultural SIGs that represent areas otherwise encompassed by a regional SIG.
The issue of Student Government funding for single-nation cultural SIGs dates back to the 2014-2015 academic year with the establishment of the Pakistan Student Organization as an entity separate from TASHAN, a cultural SIG which endeavors to represent all of South Asia. Following a heated discussion on social media, the 2014-2015 Student Government proposed a referendum on whether to ban single-nation cultural SIGs.
The referendum ultimately failed to pass with 40.4% of the student body at the time voting. In the succeeding semesters, multiple new single-nation cultural SIGs were founded that are still active today, including Dongari the Korean SIG, the Polish Cultural Association and the Ukrainian SIG.
This past fall, conversation surrounding cultural SIGs again began on social media in late September in response to a Gazelle article published on Sept. 25 addressing national cliques on campus. The conversation on national SIGs bled into the Student Government budget presentation during the GA on the same day the article was published. Responding to a question on funding discrimination between national and regional SIGs, Student Government Treasurer Cyril Cuda said, “For the next semester we might incorporate [geographical reach] into the policies for the funding.” The Student Government followed up their calls for conversation by hosting a discussion at the Oct. 8 GA devoted to discussing cultural SIGs.
As it stands there is no funding discrimination between cultural SIGs based on geographical coverage. Cuda clarified in multiple recent discussions about cultural SIG funding that funding allocations were made by the Student Funding Board, a group composed of the Student Government Treasurer and each class representative, based on the previous successes of SIG events on campus and the projected turnout for those events. The guidelines themselves were set down by the previous Student Government in an effort to quickly allocate funds at the start of the fall 2015 semester. The Student Funding Board decided not to change the previous administration’s criteria for allocating funding.
Editors Note: For the purposes of this map, Africa Global is restricted to Africa with partial representation in the United States and Caribbean countries. Cultural SIG’s are restricted to their geographic origins for this map. The Gazelle acknowledges the importance of diasporic communities in all cultural SIGs.
Cultural SIG leaders voiced a variety of opinions on funding discrimination and single-nation cultural SIG versus regional cultural SIG relevance in conversation with The Gazelle.
The Ukrainian SIG, the campus’s newest cultural SIG, is one of the four SIGs on campus that geographically overlaps with another SIG, in this case with the European Society. Sophomore Veronika Radinovska, President of the Ukrainian SIG, discussed her SIG in a conversation with The Gazelle. Addressing the genesis of the organization, Radinovska said,
“The newly established Ukrainian SIG … sets the goal to reconnect with the Ukrainian community in Abu Dhabi while raising awareness and breaking stereotypes about the country. … Throughout the semester, we offer film screenings, embassy visits and myth buster events.”
The Polish Cultural Association also geographically overlaps with the European Society. Created last year, the group has hosted a few events on campus with another projected for next week. Sophomore Tomasz Bachosz, Vice President of the PCA, described some of last year’s events:
“[There was] a piano recital on our independence day. We [flew in] a world class pianist from Poland and he performed here. There were almost 250 people. And in May we did something similar but with an Opera singer, [the best] in Poland, so we brought this classical aspect of Polish culture,” said Bachosz. Responding to the idea of assimilating into the European SIG Bachosz noted:
“[If we merged,] no one would help us from the Embassy or Polish business groups because Europe is one brand [and] Poland is a second brand,” said Bachosz.
Discussing European cultural SIGs overall, senior Toma Pavlov, President of the European Society, believes that ideally SIGs would not overlap and national SIGs would become part of their regional groups. Until recently, the European Society was known as the Central and Eastern European Association, until the organization re-branded to include the rest of the European continent.
“We have too many SIGs and I think many of them can exist under part of a bigger organization,” said Pavlov, adding, “In the European Society we do invite all nations rather than [them] having their own SIG; we can have a Polish night, or a Ukrainian night, instead of them existing on their own. Why not be part of this bigger group? Why not join an existing SIG?”
A breakdown of funding appropriations for overlapping cultural SIGs can be found here. The x-axis is in AED and the data for the graph comes courtesy of Student Government.
NYUAD’s East and Southeast Asian national SIGs share in the belief that regional SIGs are optimal. Currently, each group covers one to multiple nations — the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Chinese Cultural Club, Dongari the Korean SIG and the representatives of Taiwan and Japan have been discussing a merger. Senior Yi Yi Yeap, Treasurer of the ASEAN, clarified that, “If we merge, it would help in terms of leadership.” Not only that, Yeap continued, “It would also make applying for funding so much easier, as it’s been tricky having to come up with a full figure and then trying to split it between SIGs.”
The final example of cultural SIG coverage on campus is the Latinoamérica SIG, which has no geographic overlapping SIGs in either Central or South America. Sophomore Cristobal Esteve, President of the Latinoamérica SIG, told The Gazelle, “We try to promote Latin America in the university [along with] our culture and positions. We don't try to be exclusive, but [instead] invite the community to get involved in our cultural tradition.”
In the end, the discussion of cultural SIGs on campus boils down to two major concerns: First, whether individual SIG diversity should be prioritized over budgetary efficiency, considering the increasingly limited nature of funds, and second, whether cultural SIGs should be viewed as separate entities or, instead, like any other SIG which receives money based on the success of its events.
Rodrigo Luque is Deputy News Editor. Tom Klein is News Editor. Email them at
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