This past weekend, members of the Wake Forest community experienced an incredibly monumental event: the Diwali and Eid Celebration, organized by the South Asian Student Association (SASA) and the Muslim Student association (MSA). Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights and Eid is the Muslim festival of the sacrifice. Both festivals are incredibly important, culturally and religiously, to many students on this campus.
The celebration was attended by 250 members of the Wake Forest community — students of all years: faculty, staff, graduate students, medical students, friends, families, etc. The community came together in a shared experience of joy and merriment, bonded over a lavish Indian and South Asian dinner and truly exemplified an environment of inclusion.
As an international student from India, and a member of the South Asian community, I came to this university overestimating the diversity of our student body and efforts to make this university a more inclusive space. Navigating a predominantly white institution as a person of color (and as an international student) understandably comes with multifaceted challenges. During my first year, I was astounded to find that Wake Forest did not celebrate Diwali. The most popular pan-Hindu celebration I could think of was not celebrated on my campus.
Many of my peers and professors were not aware of it either, which surprised me, given the prevalence of South Asians in the United States.
On Diwali night, I texted my friends and we met up to light lamps, make colorful rangolis (vibrant patterns made on the ground with chalk, powder or petals), listen to Bollywood music and split a packet of gummy worms (the closest I could get to Indian sweets on short notice).
This past weekend, four years later, a beautiful, white tent stood on the lower quad, decorated with lights and tapestries. Within it, one could observe some truly remarkable sights — spirited dancing to Bollywood and top-40 music, hearty consumption of some truly delectable South Asian cuisine, the formation of new friendships, socializing and, most of all, the intangible atmosphere of inclusion and joy.
This celebration was incredible not only because it brought together so many facets of the community but also because it fostered a moment of genuine cultural engagement and inclusion of the South Asian and Muslim communities on campus. Many students who attended the event have said that the event made these festivals ideologically and culturally accessible to all the attendees and encouraged them to go beyond their comfort zones and dive into new experiences.
While this is just one example of large-scale cultural engagement on campus, there are numerous cultural organizations at Wake Forest (ASIA, AfriCASA, OLAS, to name a few) that organize a wide variety of remarkable events on campus. The mutually inclusive environment created by these events is a unique and valuable experience for all.
Not only do these events unite the whole Wake Forest community, but they also strive to unite the diverse experiences and identities present within these cultural organizations, given that we often paint cultural communities as having a very monolithic, uniform identity.
Inclusion is a multifaceted concept on a campus like ours. It requires active investment by all members of the Wake Forest community and addresses many identities that experience differing levels of power and privilege. Despite the success of this event, the South Asian, Hindu and Muslim communities still face harmful microaggressions on our campus.
However, the Diwali and Eid Celebration was a transformative moment where I witnessed and experienced a community thriving on the shared, inclusive experience of joy and acceptance.
I hope that the Wake Forest community continues to support such diverse experiences and celebrations, so that the average Demon Deacon looks forward to a whole host of cultural celebrations, in addition to traditions like Project Pumpkin, Wake ‘N Shake and Lovefeast.