Written by Anya Gupta, Duke University, College Contact Counselor
My high school - despite being in the heart of Silicon Valley and with a huge South Asian population - did not have a South Asian student group until my senior year. At our annual Diversity Assembly, I was shocked that so few (if any, some years) Indian students would perform dances or songs of any kind. When I came to Duke in the Fall of 2019, I was blown away at the beauty and representation of South Asia on campus. It was a huge contrast to what I had seen growing up!
This blog post will focus on the value I have found in Duke’s South Asian community and groups, but there are dozens of other organizations that highlight the richness and beauty of regional art, music, and culture from all over the world!
There are student run dance groups that each specialize in dance from different regions of India - There’s Duke Rhydhun which does Hindi film dance fusion, Raas which does traditional Gujarat-inspired garba, Lasya, which does Indian classical dance (like Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathak, and Odissi), and Duke Dhamaka, which does competitive Punjabi bhangra! And while I myself have no dance skill whatsoever, it is incredibly meaningful to have friends and peers in each of these organizations and see them perform several times a year. There are also several traditional Indian singing groups that do acapella and carnatic singing, both which are student run. One of the most moving experiences I had in college was when I went to the Pakistani Student Association Qawwali Night. Qawwali is a form of Sufi Islamic devotional singing. Riyaaz Qawwali performed for about two hours, and the music and energy in the room was one of a kind. I still listen to qawwalis when I study today! It opened my eyes to a whole new genre of music, one that is so rich in Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi lyricism.
I am graduating from Duke with a Hindi minor, a degree I never thought (when I started college) I would end with. I grew up speaking Hindi, but didn’t know how to read or write it until I came to college. I absolutely fell in love with the written and spoken language, and felt so supported by Duke’s Asian Middle Eastern Studies department. I highly encourage high school students to look at college course offerings beyond their intended field of study; there is so much richness and depth in world history, cinema, art, and culture - and professors who are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the subject. One of the best classes I ever took at Duke was a “Modern and Global India” history class with Dr. Kena Wani. It totally changed the way I looked at India, its place in the world, and my heritage as well. Courses on Bollywood Cinema, Sanskrit, Indian Epic stories, and even Tibetan Buddhism are some I have been in or heard about; they truly speak to the sheer diversity of the topics on South Asia offered at Duke.
Duke’s cultural organizations and wide range of course offerings are such a vibrant and fun way to stay connected to tradition, religion, art, and culture while being far from home. I have truly valued the friendships and connections I have made with my peers and professors through student orgs and the Asian Middle Eastern Studies department. I am so thankful! If you’re reading this - I totally encourage you to take some time in college to learn more about your heritage and personal/family history.