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RASA’s problems highlight the difficult process of forming new clubs

Vaseline 2 months ago

SA and Wilson Commons Student Activity (WCSA) seek to uphold the values ​​of diversity and inclusion and support student interests, but proposals for a number of new clubs are encountering difficulties on campus.

Sophomore students Shreya Anbalagan and Arya Rajesh presented their dance club RASA and registered in November 2023 to make it an official student organization. Their proposal was rejected because it was too similar to existing clubs – a justification that the Student Organization Review Board (SORB), a committee of seven students and four staff responsible for reviewing new club proposals, has rejected many new clubs. Anbalagan and Rajesh’s problems with SORB highlight major flaws in the system for creating new student organizations on campus.

They came up with the idea for RASA last summer as a way to channel their passion for the unique genres of South Indian dance. They both grew up learning Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance rooted in Hindu stories and originating from Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. When they started at UR, they wanted to continue dancing, which they did by joining Rangoli. However, Rangoli advertises itself as “Bollywood fusion” – Bollywood is North Indian, which is drastically different from South Indian dance styles.

The difference between RASA and other South Asian clubs on campus lies in the great cultural diversity between the different regions of India and the associated dance genres, which many people may not be familiar with. The two existing South Asian dance clubs on campus are the competitive Bhangra Team – centered around Punjabi folk dance that has its origins in the Punjab region of South Asia, particularly in northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan – and the non-competitive Rangoli Club – named after the notable Indian flower dancing club. design rangoli and focused on North Indian, Mumbai-based Bollywood dances. Neither club really reflects South Indian culture, which is more closely linked to Hinduism and reflected in classical Indian dance.

Yet RASA’s founders left their first meeting with SORB with a rejection based on two concerns: mission and resources. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB seemed to struggle to understand how RASA was different from the other South Asian dance clubs.

“We felt like they weren’t listening,” Rajesh said. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB repeatedly asked how RASA is different from other clubs.

“If you had taken the time to read our club’s proposal, you would have understood it,” Rajesh said.

On the issue of resources, Rajesh recalled that the board had said that the South Asian clubs need to join forces better, and that they cannot approve another South Asian club without prejudice to the others. RASA’s co-founders recalled feeling that SORB was “tone deaf” and “ignorant,” as Rajesh put it. In addition, they said the board noted there was not enough studio space to host RASA. Despite this claim, RASA has managed to work around the schedules of other dance clubs and informally utilize open studio space when they need it.

“They (SORB) have rejected performance groups almost across the board (…) because of space,” SA Senator Rosemary Trotter said on the space issue. “They tried to meet with (club members) … to understand some things better.”

SA President Daniel Pyskaty said he will work with the head of WCSA over the summer of next year to evaluate potential new spaces, including discussions about the use of Todd Union and the Sloan Performing Arts Center.

“All of these conversations need to happen to make sure we can support our performance groups,” he said.

Anbalagan and Rajesh wrote a lengthy appeal letter during the winter break emphasizing what they thought of the first meeting and addressing their concerns – that “the reasoning used by SORB to reject (their) club proposal is not justified” and that they “ felt a lack of communication.” at various points in this process,” the letter said. RASA met with SORB for a second time in early February for a pre-appeal meeting to discuss how the first meeting could have gone better. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB apologized for the misunderstanding and said the wording was likely wrong when they suggested uniting the South Asian groups on campus.

“The second meeting was definitely an eye-opener and communication took place, but that still doesn’t take anything away from the first meeting,” Rajesh said.

WCSA chapter coordinator Chelsey Wahl-Ridley said in an email that organizations with mission statements similar to other groups will not receive recognition.

“In some cases, SORB may recommend that a proposed organization connect with a pre-existing organization where the board believes potential synergies may exist to discuss how they could become an affiliate,” the email continued. “This route allows the proposed organization to carry out their activities, but under an organization that already meets the stated mission.”

Anbalagan and Rajesh suggested that WCSA could improve the new club formation process by including a disclaimer for people looking to start a dance club, as Rajesh questioned why they were allowed to apply to start one in the first place.

RASA’s founders also said the SORB meeting format could use improvement. During RASA’s first meeting with SORB, Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB explicitly instructed RASA not to say anything while SORB was talking in the last 10 minutes of the meeting. The board members asked questions that RASA could have easily answered, but Anbalagan and Rajesh said this was not allowed under the instructions. However, at the second meeting, the founders said that SORB told them it was not a rule and that they could have spoken up, but that was not how it was communicated to RASA.

“Overall, communication could have been better,” Rajesh said.

Finally, and most importantly to Anbalagan and Rajesh, the two said that if WCSA was going to represent them, they needed someone from their diaspora on the board. The WCSA representatives at the meeting were all East Asian or white. There were no South Asian people there to represent a new South Asian club, which the two say certainly played a major role in the confusion and misconceptions during the first meeting.

SA is working to increase diversity on SORB: “SORB is working with the DEI chair to explore how they can increase the identities represented on the board and improve their processes for the future,” Chelsey Wahl-Ridley told the Campus times.

Despite these setbacks, RASA has already performed at several events and debuted in October 2023 at the South Asian Exposition organized by ADITI, where they performed a hip-hop and Kuthu (a South Indian folk dance) fusion choreographed by Anbalagan and Rajesh. They also performed at the Diwali dinner on November 11, 2023 and at the Classical Arts Showcase in mid-February, both organized by the Hindu Students’ Association.

“RASA would be a cool way to continue the South Indian dance we already know and learn more South Indian dances through the club,” Rajesh said. They hope to share the art with graduate students and community members. “The more the merrier,” Rajesh added.