SASA to build community and embrace South Asian culture

Members+of+the+SASA+cabinet+and+cub+advisor+Rashmi+Kumar+pose+for+the+photo.+Students+from+left+to+right%2C+president+Tanvi+Kodukulla+%28jr%29%2C+treasurer+Srinivas+Sriram+%28jr%29+%2C+junior+vice+president+Mahi+Yerabothu+%28jr%29%2C+social+media+manager+Tanya+Joshi+%28sr%29%2C+and+secretary+Mysha+Khan+%28jr%29.+

Deepa Gautam

Members of the SASA cabinet and cub advisor Rashmi Kumar pose for the photo. Students from left to right, president Tanvi Kodukulla (jr), treasurer Srinivas Sriram (jr) , junior vice president Mahi Yerabothu (jr), social media manager Tanya Joshi (sr), and secretary Mysha Khan (jr).

Deepa Gautam, Features Editor

When navigating life in a melting pot such as the US, it can be difficult for students to feel culturally understood, to feel truly comfortable embracing the rich customs that come along with their unique identity. Nonetheless, celebrating these differences is vital towards building a welcoming and inclusive school community.

Here in Westford, WA has made significant strides in appreciating its diverse student body through groups such as International Club and Asian Culture Club. However, as shown by the success of events like Chaat Masala, students have shown a growing interest in a space that caters specifically to representing the large South Asian population at WA.

Aiming to fill this void is the South Asian Student Association (SASA), a new club which will meet every other Wednesday from 2:00-3:00 pm in room 261, and is advised by English teacher, Rashmi Kumar. Although this is the club’s first year at WA, the cabinet is excited to introduce a variety of initiatives, including cultural club meetings, fundraisers, and South Asian celebrations.

“We thought it would be a great way to give people a space where all of South Asia can be embraced and shared, incorporating traditional food, movies, music, dance and more,” SASA president Tanvi Kodukulla said. “We hope this will be an opportunity to help people feel comfortable in their skin, and just have fun while celebrating their identity.”

According to Kodukulla, the idea of introducing a chapter of SASA to Westford was inspired by her English teacher, and now club advisor, Kumar. 

After hearing about other Massachusetts high schools undertaking a SASA club, Kumar felt compelled to help facilitate a similar initiative here in Westford, where there is a growing South Asian population.

“I have been involved in DEI efforts pretty much since the year that I joined WA in 2002 and so this [club] is almost a natural offshoot of that,” Kumar said. “This club is meant to be a place for South Asian students to congregate and collaborate, but we would like it to be a more inclusive group as well. As we know, there are many adolescents who are straddling two cultures and figuring out their identity – and these cultures are not based on ethnicity alone – therefore, this club could be a safe space for them too.”

According to Kumar, she had reached out to Kodukulla with this idea because of the latter’s enthusiasm while discussing the The Namesake, and how much she enjoyed seeing her experiences represented in the school curriculum.

Within days, Kodukulla and junior Mahi Yerabothu, who is vice president of the club, began turning this aspiration into a reality. As Indian-American students living in a predominantly white community, both leaders truly resonated with the spirit and mission of the club.

For the pair, finding the confidence to openly showcase their South Asian roots at school was a journey that took year according to Kodukulla. 

“Last year was the first time I truly felt comfortable coming to school [in Indian attire],” Kodukulla said. “There was this huge sense of community because of a simple idea to dress up for Diwali and hold Chaat Masala. I personally had never seen people wear Indian dresses for festivals at school before, so it was very connecting. Ever since then, I’ve been trying my best to embrace my culture even more.”

Inspired by these in-school celebrations of culture, Yerabothu expressed that a major goal for SASA is to help other South Asian students feel safe expressing their identity too. However, non-South Asian students are also highly encouraged to join for an opportunity to immerse themselves in a new culture. 

“We want this to be for [everyone], not just South Asians, because the goal is spreading, embracing, and accepting culture,” treasurer Srinivas Sriram said. “Even if you don’t know anything about South Asia, it’s really just a fun way to meet new people, try new things, and get a better understanding

Most of all, the club will provide a platform for all members of South Asia by spotlighting the national and religious diversity that encompasses the region. Although the Indian subcontinent is made up of eight countries and more than four major religions, they are often incorrectly clustered together as “Hindu” and “Indian”, according to Kodukulla and Yerabothu. 

“There are so many beautiful countries and religions in South Asia that most people have never heard of,” Kodukulla said. “Another goal of SASA is to get these out in the open and make sure they are known and have the same level of comfort as our other Asian counterparts.”

As of right now, club meetings will center around providing opportunities for students to share their culture, planning for new fundraisers, while also conducting activities such as movie nights, bringing traditional food, playing music, and fun crafts. Next month, the club is also planning to hold a table at the International Block party at the Franco American Club on Sunday, October 16th to fundraise and increase their community presence. 

After months of diligent planning, the team is excited to bring students together for their first meeting on Wednesday, September 21st. 

“As with any club, I hope people come in with an open mind and see what’s going on to really get a sense of where this club is going,” Kumar said. “We have lots of ideas and we hope students will join us and help grow this club into something significant because there is definitely a need for an organization like SASA at Westford Academy.”

Anyone interested in joining SASA should enter the google classroom with code t3jtbyn or follow their instagram at @westfordacademysasa.