By Dina Sayedahmed
Since it first established the category, U.S. News & World Report ranked Rutgers University-Newark as the most diverse university nationwide. For 17 years, and counting, Rutgers University-Newark has maintained this title and proudly upholds it.
RU-N’s diversity factor was celebrated last week during the World Week events, most notably during Wednesday’s World Fair, organized by the Office of Student Life and Leadership. Several student organizations assembled in the Paul Robeson Campus Center cafeteria and student street, exemplifying their cultural heritage and tradition through an array of foods, flags, music, art, literature, and dress.
Thanks to DJ Zeke, the campus center pulsed with music, traveling from NYC to the Caribbean and the Middle East. While many student organizations chose to set up tables with food and distributions, the Sikh Student Association staged a 3-minute Bhangra show.
“The Sikh Student Association was established three weeks ago,” Balpreet Bindra, president of the SSA, says. “We needed five events for the semester in order to be recognized, so we asked Jamaal if we can perform at the World Fair.”
Bindra is a junior majoring in English with postgrad plans of attending law school. Along with friends from NJIT and Rutgers, he cofounded Brick City Bhangra, a Bhangra dance troupe.
“Everyone should have a voice on campus,” Bindra says. “Sikhs come from Punjab, but we like to share our proud, vibrant identity everywhere we go. This identity was different than other campus organizations, so we started the Sikh Student Association.”
According to Bindra, Bhangra is an upbeat Punjabi dance that has a cultural origin. Whilethe SSA was founded for a variety of purposes, Brick City Bhangra’s sole objective is dance.
Another student organization seeking distinction is the Turkish Student Association.
“Many people think of Turkey as Arab, however, we’re more diverse than that with areas in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East,” says Saliha Cifci, a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Business. “We want to distinguish ourselves.”
At their station, the TSA served Baklava and Turkish Delights, famous Turkish desserts, and displayed traditional dresses, among them the kaftan. The kaftan dress was designed during Ottoman rule, which extended to much of North Africa, Turkey, and parts of the Middle East, and is worn by the bride-to-be on the night of her henna. The TSA also displayed ebru paintings and informed students of study abroad opportunities in Turkey.
“More and more people have approached us about Turkish culture and language,” Cifci said to The Observer.
“Although we’ve only just begun, I think we are doing a good job educating people and making them more culturally aware.”
Another recently-founded organization, the Arab Culture Club, also tabled at the World fair.
“We have so many Arabs on campus,” Muna Obediallah, one of the cofounders of the ACC, said. “We figured we should start an organization that will recognize us.”
At their table, the ACC distributed food of Middle Eastern origin, such as taboola and ikras. Toward the conclusion of the Fair, Ali Jaloudi spontaneously led the traditional Arabian dance, dabka, to the famous song, Filisteen ‘Arabiya. As the dance prolonged, several students, many of whom were not of Arab origin, joined the dance as well.
“All everyone knows is argeela,” Obeidallah says. “We want to change that, because there’s much more to Arab culture and tradition than a water pipe.”
Throughout the year, the ACC was able to organize and cosponsor a few events on campus, which Obeidallah believes to be the building blocks for other bigger events. “It’s very difficult to mobilize the Arabs on campus and unite them,” Obeidallah says, “but seeing the dabka dance and everyone joining in gave me high hopes for ACC.”
The West Indian Student Association, on the other hand, is a cultural organization that was founded in 2010. WISA President Duwayne Campbell, a junior majoring in biology, explains that the organization was founded in order to bring West Indian culture to campus.
“Our events are based on whatever activities and practices are exercised in the Caribbean mostly,” Campbell says. “We use WISA to bring us together and give us a taste of home.”
In the process of bringing the West Indies to campus, Campbell believes this also increases awareness and knowledge of their culture.
“We have fashion shows and banquets, which facilitate discussion of the uniqueness of each country in the West Indies,” Campbell said.
With over 100 countries being represented on the RU-N campus, World Week is one of many testaments to its diversity.