SA and Wilson Commons Student Activities (WCSA) endeavor to uphold the values of diversity and inclusion and to support students’ interests, but proposals for some new clubs have encountered difficulties on campus.

Sophomores Shreya Anbalagan and Arya Rajesh pitched their dance club RASA and applied to make it an official student organization in Nov. 2023. Their proposal was denied for being too similar to existing clubs –– a justification that the Student Organization Review Board (SORB), a committee of seven students and four staff members responsible for reviewing new club proposals, has used to deny many new clubs. Anbalagan and Rajesh’s issues with SORB highlight important flaws in the system to create new student organizations on campus.

They came up with the idea for RASA last summer as a way to channel their passions for the unique genres of South Indian dance. They both grew up learning Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance rooted in Hindu stories and native to Tamil Nadu, a state in southern India. When they started at UR, they wanted to continue dancing, which they did by joining Rangoli. However, Rangoli advertises itself as “Bollywood fusion” —  Bollywood is North Indian, which differs drastically from South Indian dance styles.

RASA’s difference from other South Asian clubs on campus lies in the great cultural diversity among the different regions of India and the genres of dance associated with them, which many people may not be familiar with. The two existing South Asian dance clubs on campus are the competitive Bhangra team — centered around Punjabi folk dance that originates in the Punjab region of South Asia, specifically in northwestern India and northeastern Pakistan — and the noncompetitive Rangoli club — named after the notable Indian floral design rangoli and focused on North Indian, Mumbai-based Bollywood dances. Neither club really reflects South Indian culture, which is more tied to Hinduism and reflected in classical Indian dance.

Still, RASA’s founders left their first meeting with SORB with a rejection based on two concerns: mission and resources. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB seemed to have trouble understanding how RASA was different from the other South Asian dance clubs.

“We felt like they weren’t listening,” Rajesh said. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB h repeatedly asked how RASA is different from other clubs.

“If you took the time to read our club’s proposal, you would’ve understood,” Rajesh said.

Regarding resources, Rajesh recalled the board saying that the South Asian clubs need to do a better job of banding together, and that they couldn’t approve another South Asian club without detracting from the others. The co-founders of RASA remembered feeling like SORB was “tone deaf” and “ignorant,” as Rajesh put it. Additionally, they said the board noted that there wasn’t enough studio space to host RASA. Despite this claim, RASA has been able to work around the schedules of other dance clubs and informally use open studio space when they need it.

“They [SORB] have been rejecting performance groups pretty much across the board […]  because of space,” said SA Senator Rosemary Trotter about the space issue. “They have been trying to meet with [club members] … to better understand some things.”

SA President Daniel Pyskaty mentioned working with the head of WCSA over the summer of next year to evaluate potential new spaces, addressing conversations around the usage of Todd Union and Sloan Performing Arts Center.

“All of these conversations need to [happen] be had to make sure we can support our performance groups,” he said.

Anbalagan and Rajesh wrote a lengthy appeal letter over winter break highlighting what they thought of the first meeting and addressing their concerns — that “the reasoning used by SORB to reject [their] club proposal is unjustified” and that they felt “a lack of communication at several points in this process,” according to the letter. RASA met with SORB for a second time at the beginning of February for a pre-appeal meeting to discuss how the first meeting could’ve gone better. Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB apologized for the misunderstanding, saying that the wording was likely wrong when they suggested uniting the South Asian groups on campus.

“The second meeting was definitely eye-opening, and communication was happening, but that still doesn’t take away from the first meeting,” Rajesh said.

WCSA Department Coordinator Chelsey Wahl-Ridley said in an email that organizations with mission statements similar to other groups do not receive recognition.

“In some cases, SORB may recommend a proposed organization connect with an already existing organization where the board believes potential synergies may exist to discuss becoming an affiliate,” the email continued. “This route allows the proposed organization to execute their activities, but under an organization which is already meeting the expressed mission.”

Anbalagan and Rajesh suggested WCSA could improve the new club formation process by including a disclaimer for people who want to start a dance club, as Rajesh wondered why they were allowed to apply to start one in the first place.

The RASA founders also said the SORB meeting format could use improvement. During RASA’s first meeting with SORB, Anbalagan and Rajesh said SORB explicitly instructed RASA not to say anything while SORB was talking amongst themselves in the last 10 minutes of the meeting. The board members were asking questions that RASA could’ve answered easily, yet Anbalagan and Rajesh said they weren’t allowed to according to the instructions. However, in the second meeting, the founders said SORB told them that it wasn’t a rule and that they could have spoken, yet that was not how it was communicated to RASA.

“Overall, communication could have been better,” Rajesh said.

Lastly, and most importantly to Anbalagan and Rajesh, the two said that if WCSA was going to represent them, they needed someone from their diaspora on the board. The WCSA representatives in the meeting were all either East Asian or white. There were no South Asian people there to represent a new South Asian club, which the two said definitely played a significant role in the confusion and misconceptions throughout the first meeting.

SA is working to increase the diversity on SORB: “SORB is working with the DEI Chair to explore how they can increase the represented identities on the board and improve their processes for the future,” Chelsey Wahl-Ridley told the Campus Times.

Despite these setbacks, RASA has already performed in several events, making its debut in the South Asian Exposition hosted by ADITI back in Oct. 2023, where they performed a hip-hop and Kuthu (a South Indian folk dance) fusion choreographed by Anbalagan and Rajesh. They also performed at the Diwali Dinner on Nov. 11, 2023, and in the Classical Arts Showcase in mid-February, both hosted by the Hindu Students’ Association.

“RASA would be a cool way to continue the South Indian dance that we already know and learn more South Indian dances through the club,” Rajesh said. They hope to share the art with graduate students and community members. “The more the merrier, ” Rajesh added.

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