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School of Medicine brings together community with Diwali celebration

A balloon that reads “Happy Diwali” is pictured. The UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine hosted a celebration Nov. 16 for Diwali, a South Asian cultural and religious holiday. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

By Shaun Thomas

Nov. 30, 2023 6:34 p.m.

The UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine hosted a celebration Nov. 16 in honor of Diwali, a prominent South Asian cultural and religious holiday known as the Festival of Lights.

The event, first held two years ago, was hosted at Geffen Hall as a partnership between the South Asian Medically-oriented Student Association and the school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee. At the celebration, attendees could eat traditional South Asian foods such as roti, rice, tandoori chicken and paneer. Attendees chatted as a mix of pop music and traditional South Asian music played in the background.

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Food is pictured on a table. Event attendees had the opportunity to eat a variety of South Asian foods, such as roti and paneer. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Sven Malama, a civil engineering doctoral student, said he heard about the event through a friend who invited him to celebrate together.

“I think it’s great for the community that they can celebrate a festival like this all together and also bring outsiders like me and show them the traditions (and) foods,” Malama said.

Some attendees at this year’s event had also been at the first year’s celebration. Rohini Nott, a fourth-year medical student and one of the co-founders of the student association, said she felt that the 2021 Diwali celebration, which she attended, was special because it brought many people together.

She added that she wanted to attend the event this year to meet even more people celebrating Diwali, as the celebration has expanded to departments outside the School of Medicine.

Some attendees said the celebration allowed them to enjoy the holiday despite not being at home. Priyanka Boro, a lab assistant in the Department of Ophthalmology, said she wanted to attend the event because she felt far away from her family back home in India, where she grew up.

“Celebrating Diwali is, I feel, very close to home, to my culture,” Boro said. “I think it’s very important for … any cultural community to celebrate each of their festivities in this way.”

Nott, who is originally from Phoenix, said that while she could not celebrate Diwali with her friends and family at home, the event gave her a chance to celebrate with the UCLA community. Boro said that unlike a cozier home setting, the academic setting meant that she tried to introduce herself to people and get to know unfamiliar faces.

“Even though it’s an academic setting, we’re with our academic family,” Nott said. “I’m with my friends that I go to school with and people that are also observing, like home away from home.”

(Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)
Attendees at the Diwali event are pictured sitting around a table. (Shane Yu/Daily Bruin staff)

Nott said this event was important because of the number of students, faculty, staff and patients who celebrate Diwali, adding that cultural celebrations have been important in her time at UCLA as they have helped her build a community.

The event also provided a good opportunity for people from different cultures to learn more about South Asian culture, Boro said.

“(This event is) just promoting an inclusive environment through raising awareness about what Diwali is and making this event open – not just to people who would normally celebrate it but to people who haven’t heard of it and are learning for the first time,” Nott said.

In the future, Boro said she hopes to see elements such as dancing at the event, as the holiday typically includes elaborate performances when celebrated in Asia.

Malama said he enjoyed meeting a variety of people and that he would come to the event again next year.

“(It’s) just bringing awareness to people that don’t know what Diwali is to be able to promote recognition of what we celebrate,” Nott said. “So many members of our community, including our patients, observe holidays like this.”

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