The Sun Never Sets on the CMC Empire
From recruiting to socializing, South Asia is the new frontier
Weeks ago, students gathered at Walker Beach to throw colored powder and water at each other. Soon after, fliers for a Sanskriti performance appeared all over campus. And now the 5Cs have a Brown Brotherhood? This semester has seen a mass increase in South Asian culture at the Claremont Colleges.
As a cultural melting pot, home to 1.17 billion people, and the largest democracy in the world, India is emblematic of the recent social and economic development in South Asia. Not surprisingly, the U.S. has fostered a stronger political, economic, and cultural relationship with India since the nation liberalized its economy two decades ago. This relationship between India and USA has trickled down to the 5Cs. As Claremont McKenna President Pamela Gann recently wrote in the “President’s Message” in CMC Magazine, “We are ready to widen our relationships within India.”
Recruiting Indian Students
With increased globalization, Indians want to reap the benefits of a liberal arts education. This desire is reflected in the growing Indian community at CMC. In 2007, the college had four Indian citizens enroll. That number doubled to eight in 2008, dropped to five in 2009, increased to sixteen in 2010 and reached a record nineteen in 2011. Indian students are the largest cohort of international students at CMC.
Adam Miller, Associate Dean of Admissions at CMC, said that it is difficult to ignore a country with such a large population. “[CMC’s] mission is to enroll the most diverse and talented people who are leaders. India has a strong educational system, values, and a lot of very qualified applicants. We have been pretty aggressive in making sure we’re out there.” Miller referenced President Gann’s trip to India in December 2011 as an instance of CMC continuing to build relationships and opportunities in the country.
The growing population of Indian students at CMC has resulted in greater participation in cultural and social events related to South Asia. The 5C club Ekta, a Sanskrit word meaning unity, was revived in 2011. The ninety active members work to unify Claremont’s South Asian community by organizing cultural events. As the club’s co-head Jessica Kaushal PO ’14 explained, “coming to Pomona was strange for me because there was not much of a presence or voice from the South Asian community.”
Ekta is now a thriving club that has produced successful events. More recently, the Sanskriti 5C performance produced by Ekta showcased mainly Bollywood dance in addition to traditional South Asian music and dance. The show also featured an African music performance and a fusion of hip-hop and Bollywood dance performed by the 5C hip-hop team. Sanskriti filled Garrison Theatre, which seats 700.
The cultural show provided a glimpse of South Asian culture and encouraged participation by all ethnic groups. Almost half of the forty members of the Bollywood Dance team are not of South Asian origin.
One group that supported the Sanskriti event was the Brown Brotherhood, a quasi-fraternity for South Asians at the 5Cs. Jasjeet Virk CMC ’13, head of the Brown Brotherhood, said, “The brotherhood’s main objectives are to create a community and network for the previously fragmented South Asian community and to add to the social life of CMC.” The Brotherhood had eight brothers in 2009, its founding year, and twenty-three in 2010. It currently has thirty-four members who pay dues of $60 per semester.
Another group that supported Sanskriti is the 5C Hindu Society. The society is responsible for organizing two religious festivals every year: Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights and the celebration of Ram’s return to his kingdom, and Holi, the Hindu festival of color and the celebration of spring and harvest. Both events enjoyed high attendance.
CMC Internships in India
For students interested in International Relations and Religion, it is difficult to neglect South Asia, with its rich culture and history.
This summer five students from CMC will intern in India. Andy Willis CMC ‘14, a Government and Religious Studies major, will work at the Akshakta Patra Foundation, which he says “provides mid-day meals to students in order to increase school attendance and avoid student hunger.” “The internship is funded through President Gann’s India Fund,” Willis added. Last winter, he also received funding from ASCMC Senate, the Center for Human Rights Leadership, and the Kravis Leadership Institute to study a sustainably developed “model” village in India.
Julia Starr CMC ’12, an International Relations major with a focus on religion, chose to study abroad in Pune during spring semester 2011. In Pune, Starr worked at a non-governmental organization where she created a model whereby microfinance firms could collaborate with HIV patients.
Starr explained that, “India has a rich history and as a young democracy it provides a perspective on how normalized concepts in USA operate in infancy and a different context. I was interested to see tons of grassroots activism by people my age and wondered why my peers weren’t as involved in social movements.”
South Asia and Academics
In addition to study abroad and internship opportunities, CMC is also focusing on bringing Indian education to Claremont. In 2005, CMC hired history professor Nita Kumar to develop a South Asia program at the college. Before she was hired, the only course related to South Asia studied Mao and Gandhi. Now there are four professors dedicated to South Asian studies. “The days where Americans learn just about themselves are gone,” Kumar said.
Since 2005, she has organized credit and non-credit trips for students from the 5Cs to explore India’s art, education and culture. Currently Kumar teaches a Freshman Humanities Seminar on South Asia and a class on Gandhi. Every year she selects one to two CMC students to work with her at Nirman, a non-profit NGO for education and arts in Varanasi.
CMC hired Religious Studies Professor Daniel Michon five years ago to increase South Asian course offerings. He teaches the Introduction to South Asian Religion class, which was so popular during registration that an extra section had to be added.
Michon also teaches an independent study language class in Sanskrit that will eventually become a yearlong full credit Sanskrit course. In an interview with the Port Side, Michon explained that “not just Indian students show interest in my class, but also students who study classical languages such as Greek and Latin.”
Michon also said that “cultural events such as Sanskriti and Holi help the South Asian program because they initiate student curiosity.” He would like to see these contemporary celebrations of South Asian culture grow alongside more interest in South Asian arts and academic study of the region.
The academic interest Michon spoke of is being fueled outside the classroom as well. This semester the Athenaeum hosted four scholars – Ameena Mirza Qazi, CMC Government Professor Aseema Sinha, Sheldon Pollock, and Naval Krishna – who spoke about South Asia. Additionally, this year’s CMC commencement speaker is Narayana Murthy, founder of the India-based multinational software company Infosys and father of CMC Trustee Akshata Murty ‘02. CMC has already confirmed a lecture by Dr. Vinay Lal, an India expert, on Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, 2012.
CMC’s plans to foster academic ties with India are not restricted to Claremont. The college is also working to develop for-credit faculty-led trips to India over summer and winter breaks.
CMC has even joined a larger national network to establish its India connection. Aleta Wenger, Executive Director for International Programs at CMC, told the Port Side that “recently CMC became a member of the American Institute of Indian Studies (AIIS), which is headquartered at the University of Chicago. AIIS is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about India and the promotion of intellectual engagement with India in American institutions of higher education. CMC’s institutional membership in AIIS will strengthen and expand opportunities for students and faculty in India.”
Though the increasing attention on India has been met with positive feedback, Kumar and Michon stress that countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan which surround India should not be neglected when studying South Asia.
CMC’s relationship with South Asia is in its early stages. Hopefully this relationship will continue to grow so that the Claremont Colleges can increase their academic and cultural offerings in diverse and important fields.