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Photo courtesy of the Bengali Students Society UofC

Spill the Chai: The importance of cultural clubs on campus

By Aymen Sherwani, October 1 2019—

To all you freshman South Asians who have a mini panic attack when your mom brags to Shazia auntie about you becoming a future doctor or an engineer but you actually don’t have a clue what you’re doing — I’m here to tell you that there is a silver lining to your future years of student loan debt. We all know that September is the universal Student New Year. While that means avoiding the campus gym for a good two weeks, or until everyone gives up on trying to get a bubble butt by cuffing season, it also means getting the chance to network and make connections that will probably be performing to the newest Bollywood song at your future seven-day desi wedding. It means joining either the Pakistani Students’ Society (PSS), Bengali Students’ Society (BSS) or the Indian Students’ Association (ISA) this fall.

“When I was younger, I was embarrassed to tell people that I was from Bangladesh because no one knew what that was,” said Sarika Haque, Vice President External of the BSS in an interview with the Gauntlet alongside Waliyya Shahzad. “I would have to explain that it was a small country near India and Pakistan for them to understand its geographical location. Cultural clubs are important because they put minority countries on the map, making us more globally aware.”

Both the PSS and BSS as cultural clubs hold it in their core philosophy that it is important to create a sense of community within first-year students, who are starting in such a big university.

Waliyya Shahzad and Sarika Haque (L-R) // Photo by Sarah Rizvi

Cultural clubs have always been at a point of controversy because, while the idea of having a culturally sensitive support group is important, many critics claim that they cause divisiveness on campus instead of bringing people together. To this, Waliyya asserts that “there may be a sort of ‘clique’ culture that tends to develop with some clubs. However, collaborating with other clubs and hosting events where members of other cultures feel welcome to attend can help to create a larger community on campus. Outreach to those with different backgrounds and creating a space where everyone is welcome can combat divisiveness that may come about.”

In a way which most people who aren’t children of immigrants don’t understand, cultural clubs are integral to the University of Calgary because of how difficult it is to be able to thrive in white-dominated institutions. It is so important to create your own space where you can thrive in your creative energy, instead of feeling uncomfortable and lonely. Claims of ethnic segregation and divisiveness aside, a lot of students look to cultural clubs as “a home away from home,” according to Sarika.

“We have a lot of international students that attend our events to meet people from similar backgrounds,” she said. “Cultural clubs are also a great place to crack jokes that don’t make sense in other languages!”

The heart of social clubs is get-together events and even if you don’t belong to a particular ethnic group, going to a cultural event is the perfect opportunity to learn more about where your peers are from and what they are passionate about. The Bengali Students’ Society will be having their annual Pohela Boishakh event, which is Bengali New Years’, as well as their new event, the Royal Mezban. In addition to this, the PSS will be dedicating this year to help raise funds to sponsor the education of as many students in Pakistan as they are able with their proceeds. The PSS is known for its annual events that always bring the house down, such as their Biryani Meet and Greet, Mehndi Night and this year’s Daawat 2020, two functions that showcase just how crazy Pakistani parties get when the DJ plays that age-old roadman classic, Amplifier.

Both clubs will be having ongoing campus-wide fundraisers to raise money to support their causes, so keep an eye out for their flags and keep checking their Instagram pages @bengalistudentssociety and @pss_ucalgary for more updates with events.

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