It’s Saturday, April 15, on the Andrews University campus. At 8:30 p.m., Newbold Auditorium is buzzing with excitement as students and community members fill its seats in brightly colored clothing. Music unfamiliar to some ears plays through the room, setting the stage for the annual culture night put on by the South Asian Student Association (SASA). Suddenly, there’s the sound of excitement echoing from one of the side entrances. Several students rush in to the tune of “Ghintang” and the night begins.
First on the docket for the evening’s festivities is a traditional Nepali dance. The four students—a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, South Asians and non-South Asians—dance in perfectly timed cadence to the piece, and their shalwars sway to the beat. SASA’s yearly culture night is always a blend of traditional dance and music, but this year the program boasts a storyline as well. Two students are getting married, well, fake married, in an opulent wedding celebration. As the Nepali dance ends, a freshman takes the stage and weaves the ins and outs of his experience growing up as an Indian in America into a delightful story. He balances humor about the downsides of his culture with appreciation for the beauty of it. When he takes his seat, audience members are treated to a rapid-fire look into the South Asian wedding festivities that precede the ceremony—the mehndi, the haldi, and the sangeet. Each “event,” or portion of the program, features a slightly different style of dance, from Bollywood to bhangra. There’s a short fashion show to illustrate the diversity of clothing found among South Asians and then the ceremony takes place. The students end the night with a rousing dance medley of popular South Asian songs.
Over the course of the year, SASA’s vision has been to tell a story of South Asian culture that is inviting and appealing, without trying to present the culture as a monolith. The group has worked hard to showcase different cultures within South Asia, from India to Pakistan to Sri Lanka and beyond. A space that would formerly have just been “Indian” is now allowed the cultural diversity it deserves. The team is supported in this vision by the “chai guy,” Kevin Wilson, the club’s sponsor.
Culture night is always a night for celebration and education. Students can expect to laugh, dance, and feel the music each year, as well as go home with a greater appreciation for and renewed interest in South Asian culture. Each year, officers and South Asian students work hard over the course of their events to introduce AU students to varied aspects of their culture and heritage.
One of the beautiful parts about being on the Andrews University campus is just how many opportunities for cultural celebration there are.
Nearly every month there is a large cultural event or banquet that celebrates a different culture’s food and music, and every year, with AUnited cultural gala, there’s a weekend of celebration for all our cultures. Unlike most universities’ social events, where there is little education taking place, each cultural event is formatted specifically to give attendees the opportunity to educate themselves on the history and practices of a culture, as well as enjoy the culture themselves. Over the course of the year, an Andrews student can celebrate everything from Filipino food to Korean holidays to Black fashion, among many other things. Attendance at these events is like a crash course in another culture and equips students for the real world—where they will encounter a wide variety of cultures and traditions. Andrews University helps students learn respect, admiration, and appreciation for what makes each of us different, in large part due to the very active cultural clubs.
Cultural clubs on campus began from a desire to find community, belonging, and identity with people similar to oneself, but they have evolved since then to become a very valuable source of education when encountering someone with a different lived experience than your own. While they still offer a place for students to belong and celebrate their own culture, they now offer the opportunity to experience other cultures, and each club heavily encourages participation from members outside of their culture. These clubs (and their activities) are responsible for not only the social life on campus but also for helping students prepare for a life as world changers.
A version of this story appeared in the Student Movement, the student newspaper of Andrews University.
Solana Campbell is a junior at Andrews University, completing coursework in business management and pursuing a career in film production.
Photos by Nigel Maxwell.
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