Going to a university that prides itself with diversity is a privilege. We have students from 130 nations, who speak over 80 languages. 40% of our demographic is made up of students of color. As GMU puts it, “Exchanging a broad range of ideas and sharing a multitude of experiences and perspectives sustains our commitment and builds a community in which everyone thrives.” They further this initiative by supporting cultural organizations on campus.
Recently, GMU proved how integral cultural organizations are to the university by awards the Indian Student Association (ISA) “Organization of the Year” at Mason’s Distinguished Quill Awards. They are a premier organization with a mission to promoting Indian culture and traditions across campus. They invite and encourage all people, regardless of background, to come out, enjoy the events, and learn about their culture through organizing multiple events! Some of their most popular events they organize are Holi Moli, Diwali Mela, Desi Gala. To learn more about the organization, I had the opportunity to interview ISA’s current president, Twinkle Gera.
Shabrina Parikh (SP): Why do you think cultural representation is vital on campus?
Twinkle Gera (TG): We have students from across the globe, therefore it is essential that they feel represented. Through fun events, people can start building a community, and that is essentially what truly makes Mason feel like home. Furthermore, it is a great way to learn about other cultures. For those that enjoy traveling, going to different cultural events is similar to visiting another country. You get to experience their food, their music, their holidays, etc. It’s a great source of cultural diffusion and allows us to become more holistically cultured.
Courtesy of Twinkle Gera
SP: What is ISA’s purpose?
TG: Our initiative is to celebrate our culture and spread knowledge of it as a lot of the events that we put on are those we participated in during our childhood. However, for me, ISA’s main purpose is to form a close-knit, genuine community that celebrates Indian culture. Joining ISA’s e-board is what allowed me to find a family within GMU, and I wanted members and event attendees to experience that without them having to join e-board. We further this goal by having a mentor/mentee program, a welcome week at the beginning of the semester, a dance team made up of our members, volunteer opportunities for our larger events and our small, member-only events. All of these events are meant to help establish connections between our members!
Courtesy of Twinkle Gera
SP: What are some of the pros and cons of being a female president in an organization that has had three previous male presidents?
TG: Being president was the first time I ever felt treated differently just based on my gender. I feel like I had to be stricter/more conscious about my behavior to my cabinet as a woman because people would take instructions the wrong way. Me being “strict” or just doing my job could come off as the typical bitchy female archetype. There have been many times where people, specifically males, within and outside of ISA would challenge my decisions and/or act disrespectfully. While that could be due to other factors, I am fairly certain that they would not act that way towards our previous male presidents. On the other hand, I got the opportunity to break the trend of male presidents, and prove that female leaders are just as, if not more, competent. There have also been various female presidents in other Asian organizations: Bengali Patriots Association, Pakistani Student Association, Kappa Phi Gamma, The Middle Eastern Student Association, etc.. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with all of these wonderful women and have not only picked up various leadership skills but saw the incredible potential female leaders have. I also had the opportunity to speak at an event by Brains then Beauty where I got to meet other female leaders who have faced similar adversities as me.
Courtesy of ISA
SP: You just executed one of your’s, and possibly GMU’s, largest events: Holi Moli. Tell me more about the event!
TG: Holi Moli is definitely our most anticipated and popular events. We had almost 1000 people turn out this year, and it is so rewarding seeing people from all different backgrounds enjoy the event as much as those us. While everyone thinks it is a fun holiday or the “Indian color run”, it actually holds a lot more significance. Holi is a celebration of good versus evil as well as the coming of Spring. It is celebrated with great pomp in India, so it only makes sense we do the same at GMU. We provide free color powder, sunglass, and pizza! We even have a DJ so people can show their moves!
Make sure you check out ISA’s events next year, and/or even become a member! They are one of many cultural organizations on campus that can offer you a great international experience! Here are some the current Executive Board members have to say about their award-winning organization:
“ISA has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and become more outgoing!” -Simran Gera
“ISA has helped me find a family I can always count on. The bond I have with my ISA fam is so incredible and it has allowed me to grow as a person.” – Nikita Verma
“ISA helped me realize that we are all here for a bigger purpose and that is to share all o our cultures with love and understanding” – Aman D’Souza