Students focus on South Asian issues at conference

While today’s college students have often been criticized for political apathy, the considerable crowds in attendance at this past weekend’s “Solidarity” conference defied the trend.

The inaugural two-day conference hosted by the South Asian Conference Council attracted over 250 college students from across the country and Canada. The conference addressed current issues in the South Asian American community, including matters related to socioeconomic and class disparities.ÊThe principal activities occurred Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 with a variety of panels that addressed a number of issues, from labor problems in India to the experience of South Asian immigrants in the United States.

Vijay Prashad, the director of international studies at Trinity College and a board member of the Center for Third World Organizing, delivered the keynote address at the conference’s opening. During his speechn, Prashad said students must be more politically active, and be willing to openly criticize oppressive governmental practices.

“Get into action when you get back to your colleges,” he said, “We’re in for some big problems if we don’t fight as a community.”

Prashad said students need to look toward the greater world community in order to understand the plight of the oppressed.

“We need to spend way more time getting off the campus and bringing it back to the campus,” he said. “We need more marrying of the politics and the community.”

Ruchika Budhraja ’03, one of the conference coordinators, said members of Yale’s South Asian Society started the conference because they were troubled by the state of political activism on campus.

“The impetus for the conference came from the lack of involvement of South Asian students in their communities,” Budhraja said. “We wanted to revive the South Asian community at Yale.”

The conference coordinators said they chose to name the conference “Solidarity” because they wanted to bring awareness to the current realities affecting the South Asian American community and to bring visibility to the issues of class and socioeconomic disparities, specifically in the South Asian American community.

“The name became ‘Solidarity’ because our original goal was to bring people of different backgrounds to achieve a political voice,” conference coordinator Neheet Trivedi ’03 said.

Saveena Dhall, assistant dean of Yale College and director of the Asian American Cultural Center, said the issues the conference addressed were timely and pertinent to South Asian students on campus. She said the issues addressed had not been explored in previous conferences at other universities.

“I think the issues are very important,” she said. “I don’t think a conference of this kind has ever been done.”

Conference coordinators said the workshop sessions were one of the most important parts of the weekend. Conference coordinator Udyogi Hangawatte ’04 said the workshops allowed students to work out solutions for the challenges facing the South Asian American community.

“We wanted to bring these issues down to the ground to show where students fit into these issues,” she said.

Rajah Augustinraj, a 2002 graduate of the University of North Carolina, said he participated in the conference because he was interested in the issues being presented.

“I think it’s very important especially with the South Asian community growing on university campuses throughout the country,” he said. “I think it’s very important to achieve a sense of identity and solidarity.”

Dhall said the conference was merely a start in developing the discourse that was initiated throughout the weekend. She said she hopes the conference will expand in future years to other universities.

“This conference shouldn’t just be a one-shot deal,” she said. “It should just be a catalyst for future discussions.”

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Carly Guss
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