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Thursday June 8th

“A sense of home” — Sangam brings together South Asian campus community

<p>The Sangam organization highlights South Asian culture on campus. Photo courtesy of Sarita Lokesh.</p>
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The Sangam organization highlights South Asian culture on campus. Photo courtesy of Sarita Lokesh.

Rashi Jagani began her time at UNC in fall 2020 — a semester marred by a global pandemic and a subsequently difficult social situation. 

During that time, her older sister attended UNC and was a member of Sangam. Jagani said she found comfort in knowing there were campus organizations that would allow her to find people with similar cultural backgrounds.  

“Coming to a PWI, I was a little more afraid of how I would keep my culture a consistent part of my life,” Jagani said. “Being in Sangam has really helped me do that and I think it's helped a lot of other South Asian students at UNC do that as well.”    

Sangam is a UNC campus organization that aims to foster a space for South Asian students to explore and celebrate their cultural identities. Established in 1987, Sangam continues to connect South Asian students on campus over shared experiences. 

Jagani’s favorite aspect of Sangam is its cultural events — especially Garba, a nine-day festival of traditional Indian dance. 

This year, Sangam will collaborate with South Asian affinity groups at N.C. State University and Duke University on a Triangle-wide Garba.   

Other events have included social mixers, celebrating Hindu religious holidays, community service projects and fundraisers for the Mahatma Gandhi fellowship, the first student-run scholarship at the University. The Sangam-operated program awards two summer grants of $3,000 to develop and implement civic engagement projects that affect South Asian society in the U.S. or abroad.         

Senior Akankshya Jena was a recipient of the fellowship this summer and used her grant to further ocular health care in Dhenkanal, Odisha, a town in India where Jena is from.     

“We can't really apply the same medical practices that we do in America to India, and the main reason is because a lot more countries don't have preventative practices in place,” said Jena, a research assistant at the UNC School of Medicine. “I wanted to kind of explore that in terms of vision.” 

Jena spent her summer increasing rural awareness of eye disease prevention, and she further expanded on her beliefs that the fellowship allowed her to make a greater impact. She believes the fellowship is reflective of Sangam’s spirit of support and collaboration.      

For sophomore Riya Modak, Sangam has grounded her college experience.   

“Sangam was incredibly essential to me finding where I belong at UNC,” she said. “It just feels very supportive, and it offers a sense of home while being away from home.”

Modak said she was born in India, and her parents immigrated to the U.S. when she was two years old. Modak grew up surrounded by Indian family, friends and tradition, and Sangam has offered a continuation of cultural familiarity. 

Most members of Sangam are Indian. Yet Sangam is open to all South Asian students, Modak said, and is “a big amalgamation of different cultures."

Sangam allowed Jagani to learn things she never knew about the entire South Asian diaspora, she said — not just India, where she is from.     

“I've learned a lot about other countries that fall within that region and just expanded my understanding of what it means to be South Asian," Jagani said.  

Sophomore Ananya Garg is Sangam’s treasurer. In Sangam, Garg developed a lot of new relationships with peers and mentors. He encourages first-years seeking a South Asian community to join.         

“Before experiencing organizations like Sangam, I was kind of separated,” Garg said. 

Sangam has taught Garg the importance of establishing a network of identity-based support.     

“Because it’s such a big campus it’s just easy to not have a sense of belonging,” Modak said. "So having identity-based organizations at UNC that an individual can connect with, and they can relate to — and then form friendships and find a community there — just betters everyone's individual experience. That makes Carolina better."                               

Students interested in joining Sangam should fill out the group’s membership form and pay a membership fee, $10 yearly or $25 lifelong. The group is also hosting an interest meeting in Union 3411 on Friday from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm.


Staff writer Annie Ham contributed reporting. |

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