More than 100 South Asian students from University of California campuses will come to UCLA this weekend to discuss what it means to be South Asian.
Indus at UCLA will host the first annual UC-Wide South Asian Conference in 20 years on Saturday and Sunday.
Attendees will discuss different facets of South Asian identity, including masculinity in the South Asian community and how to navigate being a South Asian studying subjects other than science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Students can also learn about how to combine South Asian art and activism.
The conference will also feature guest speakers who will cover topics such as what it means to be genderqueer and South Asian and how to be involved with issues in the South Asian community.
Zoya Chhabra, the conference chair and a fourth-year political science student, said the conference, which Indus at UCLA has been planning for years, aims to unite students in the South Asian community across the UC system.
Sanjana Nidugondi, a third-year neuroscience student and current president of Indus at UCLA, said the idea for the conference came from the lack of space for South Asian students to come together and talk about their issues. She added there are few people advocating for these spaces.
A large part of the conference will focus on the history of South Asian colonization, Chhabra said. She added she thinks learning about the area’s history of colonization will help people understand their culture and who they are as people.
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Raja Bhattar, the director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center, will be speaking at the conference about being South Asian while identifying as genderqueer. They said they are honored to be included because this is the first conference of its kind for South Asians.
“To be able to be part of the conversation from the beginning (as genderqueer) as opposed to being an add-on feels very intentional to me,” Bhattar said.
Bhattar said they think South Asian is a broad term that puts together groups of people with a common history but with different experiences of being South Asian.
“I think this (conference) is a unique opportunity for us to start the conversation about how to recognize different experiences of South Asians in the U.S.,” Bhattar said.
Vinay Lal, a professor of South and Southeast Asian history, will speak at the conference about the complex relationship between India and Pakistan. He said by discussing the differences and similarities between India and Pakistan he hopes students within the South Asian community recognize their similarities and differences.
Lal said he thinks it is important that students organize the conference because it will reflect issues they care about.
“Particularly in a political climate like this one, I think students must move towards certain kinds of activism as well,” Lal said. “I think it is important that this kind of conference take place at this juncture.”
Nidugondi also said she thinks the timing of the conference is important.
“I think it’s significant that (the conference) is happening the same year (President Donald) Trump was elected,” Nidugondi said. “I think it’s important that we have space to heal as a community. I think it’s important to have those spaces with our identities in mind.”