Thursday, October 22, 2020

Community away from home

MSU Asian students find support in clubs, look for more representation

October 1, 2020
<p>The Coalition of Indian Undergraduate Students (CUIS) pictured during the 2019-2020 academic year. CUIS is an Indian student organization that regularly volunteers together. Photo courtesy of Amulya Jain.</p>

The Coalition of Indian Undergraduate Students (CUIS) pictured during the 2019-2020 academic year. CUIS is an Indian student organization that regularly volunteers together. Photo courtesy of Amulya Jain.

For many students, the transition to college can be difficult: a new school with more people, strenuous schedules and a new home. Leaving families, friends and life as they know it to embark on the next chapter of their lives is not easy, but arriving at a school with tens of thousands of students as a minority leaves many feeling lonely and lost. 

Asian students at Michigan State face these situations, year after year. In search of belonging, many have found new homes in clubs and organizations. As these students search for more representation on campus, they have found comfort and community with each other.

Marketing sophomore Minhyuk (Min) Lee has found representation in the clubs, classes and activities he's involved in. As a minority, finding a sense of brotherhood or community relative to race can help with the comfort of campus and the college experience, Lee said.

Lee recommended joining an Asian fraternity such as Lambda Phi Epsilon or Pi Alpha Phi. 

Human biology sophomore Sanjana Sahoo has also found that getting involved in clubs and organizations have been the best way to make MSU feel like home and have some fun along the way.

“I definitely recommend MSU CIUS (Coalition of Indian Undergraduate Students). Basically it’s an Indian organization where we all volunteer together,” Sahoo said. “There is a whole talent show at the end of the year. There is a formal, and it’s super fun.”

“If you’re into dancing and singing there is something called Spartan Zaariya, which is the all-girls team here at MSU or Spartan Badmaash, which is the all-boys dance team," Sahoo said. "There is also a singing team called Spartan Sur, and I know there are other clubs out there that I’m not familiar with."

After a year at MSU, supply chain management sophomore Silas Yang feels supported by the MSU community as an Asian student. Yang found support in his first year by joining Asian student organizations on campus.

The organizations aren’t limited either. There are specific groups for ethnicities and international students, along with groups not centered around race at all. Yang said he has found it beneficial to stay around these groups as a way to feel culturally connected.

“There’s a ton ... for every single Asian ethnicity," Yang said. "There is this Japanese organization which is JASA. There is CSE, which is a Chinese organization, (and) KSA for Koreans. There’s a lot of international groups for international students. There’s the international Korean one. I'm pretty sure there is an international Japanese one. You can literally find it for any Asian ethnicity, so if you really want to find people that you fit in with and you can culturally breach on a personal level, I would definitely say find the one that fits you the most.”

International relations sophomore Ananya Prayagai said in cultural organizations,stigmas are erased and that outsider feeling is replaced with community improvement.

“South Asian Awareness Network is an organization under CIUS, which is to talk about social justice issues from a South Asian perspective,” Prayagai said. “Which I think is very important because there is a stigma within the South Asian community that is different from other communities. So, I think this club is also important for bringing that out and improving the culture within our community as a whole.”

It didn’t take long for Prayagai to recognize opportunities for clubs and events that allow her to bring the community together for minorities. 

But even with these groups offering a sense of community, Asian students understand that there are flaws in the system — even if they haven't experienced it firsthand — and are still in search of representation and an escape from stigmas around them. 

Prayagai said she feels that there are a lot of social justice issues that the university sometimes ignores. She said if there was more awareness of the issues and an improvement in making sure there is no discrimination toward minorities, the university would be better overall. 

When it comes to international students, Lee has seen the neglect they face in the classroom or even in Zoom meetings.

“During course interaction and Zoom meetings, even in-person interactions, I’ve noticed how secluded foreign exchange students are from everyone else,” Lee said. “Because (in some occasions) they can’t speak good enough English, or they dress differently, or they carry a different vibe to them.”

While social work sophomore Alivia Hart feels supported by the MSU community as an Asian student, she does feel that the university could have avoided some racist situations.

“Last year, President Stanley sent out some emails about some racial injustices that happened, which I thought was good, but I feel like they shouldn’t have happened in the first place,” Hart said.

She thinks that if racial injustices do happen then MSU should try to educate the students in order to prevent further ones.

Sahoo said she wishes MSU would be more vocal about specific cultural clubs as many clubs and dance teams never really get the spotlight. She said bringing them out of the dark would help show people the opportunities available and allow them to join.

Human biology sophomore Gagan Mavi said she feels supported but said that she doesn’t know as much because most of the people she surrounds herself with are also Indian. 

However, Mavi said MSU’s Diversity and Inclusion online program that all freshman and transfer students need to complete is helpful as it aims to support everyone regardless of race. 

Mavi also compared the disparities between MSU’s representation and other schools. During the fall of 2019, Michigan State University reported that its undergraduate class is 74.5% white while the University of Michigan's is 56% white. 

“For example the University of Michigan there is just a larger population of minorities and at Michigan State, that’s just not there and I don’t really think that Michigan State is doing anything wrong, it’s just that generally the numbers are lower,” Mavi said.

When it comes to making inclusion feel more like a priority, Yang thinks that urging students to take more classes on diversity or other cultures would be helpful.

While Asian students search for more inclusion from MSU, they have focused more on what they can control. Clubs and organizations have provided an outlet, an escape and sense of community for students eager to find a home. These groups, as the others have, aim to provide multicultural understanding, deep cultural connection and community for Asian students.

This article is part of our Information Overload print edition. View the entire issue here.

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