Last Sunday, April 28, on the Residential Quad, the South Asian Students Alliance (SASA) put on their annual end of the year event: SASA Fest. The day long event serves as the culmination of the student organization’s year-long goals to celebrate the numerous South Asian cultures present on Vassar’s campus.
The South Asian Students Alliance is a group established to meet the needs and concerns of the South Asian community at Vassar. The student organization seeks to unify the students of South Asian descent, but also provide the Vassar community with an insight into South Asian culture and politics.
According to the PR Rep for SASA Fest, Maya Khatri ‘15, one of the goals of the event was to raise awareness of SASA and build excitement for the organization. Khatri said, “We aim to give the entire campus community a sample of what our organization does throughout the year.”
She continued, “It’s a more public forum and lower-pressure than a book reading or film screening. We hope that at the end of the semester we can get people interested in joining SASA for the following year so that they will attend our other events.”
SASA hosts events throughout the year in an effort to bring South Asian food and culture to campus. They have weekly general body meetings and organize many other events throughout the year including an annual Eid/Diwali dinner, which is held to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid and the Hindu holiday of Diwali and a Diaspora dinner, which features delicious foods from all over South Asia.
This year’s SASA Fest has been the largest, all day-event in the organization’s history, with local food vendors, performances and other activities. This year, the event also featured the Holi festival and the Akanksha Sponsor-A-Child fundraiser.
Throughout the day the Residential Quad was filled with spectators singing, dancing, and eating while they enjoyed the spring weather and the performances. Most of the performers were members of the Poughkeepsie community. The Hindu temple in the Hudson Valley organized the performances put on by children from the region.
Performances later in the afternoon featured individual members of the SASA general body who did stand-up comedy, classical Indian dance, and a classical vocal performance.
The final performance was a Bollywood dance choreographed by Freshmen Representative Sino Esthappan ’16, and performed by many members of the SASA general body. The choreographed dance was designed with separate girls and boys parts and was rehearsed for about a month.
However, since it was a group dance, interested members who did not have the time to commit to the numerous rehearsals were able to learn the dance within a week and participate in the performance.
The SASA Fest also offered henna art, eyebrow threading and the Holi festival. The Holi festival, otherwise known as the festival of colors, is a Hindu festival in which celebrators throw colored and scented powders at each other. Students wore white clothes to offset the vibrant powders and had paint thrown on them to celebrate.
It is a festival that marks the end of winter and the upcoming spring season. It has become very popular on a lot of colleges campuses in the United States.
According to SASA Co-President Saumya Bhutani ’14, “Holi is one of the biggest Hindu festivals and so to include it is really a great way to showcase a part of South Asian culture, but more than just showcase, to have Vassar students actually interact with and get involved with South Asian culture.”
This year’s SASA Fest was the first with approval to have Holi as the finale to SASA Fest, as members of the administration previously blocked the event because of the mess throwing powder would cause. Bhutani spoke to the difficulties SASA has had in the past with throwing the Holi festival as part of SASA Fest. “In the past SASA had trouble getting the event approved because of concern regarding the colors getting too messy, which was frustrating since Serenading is much messier and happens every year,” Bhutani noted.
She continued, “This year we finally at the very last minute got approved to have Holi as our finale to SASA Fest, much due in part to Sam Speers from Religious and Spiritual Life, who was a big advocate for us.”
Bhutani also spoke of the significance of having a Holi festival as part of the SASA Fest programming. “Holi made a huge difference in the event because it’s just so fun and interactive. It was a great way for us to end SASA Fest,” she explained.
“It’s something SASA has wanted to do for a long time. I remember being a freshman in SASA and the seniors complaining how Holi just wasn’t going to happen at Vassar so to see it actually happen was very gratifying, especially after hearing from friends at other colleges what a big deal Holi is there.”
In addition to Holi, this year’s SASA Fest also incorporated donations for the Akanksha Sponsor-A-Child fundraiser, an Indian-based non-profit organization. This partnership was based on an effort to support Akanksha’s efforts to provide a quality education to thousands of under-privileged children in numerous villages across India.
White t-shirts were sold to participants in the Holi color celebration in case they did not want to get their own clothes colored and all the money from the T-shirts went toward the Sponsor-A-Child Project. SASA decided to introduce this fundraising project during SASA Fest in order to spread awareness of non-profit among the Vassar community, as well as the local community, so that others might get involved in the cause.
One student in attendance, Margaret Walter ’15 said that “SASA Fest was a great experience. The performances were really cool and it was a good idea to have the event out on the quad because it drew in a lot of people.”
Khatri ‘15 thought that this year’s event was a huge success and accomplished many of SASA’s goals. She explained, “[SASA Fest is] also great to convene with members of the Poughkeepsie South Asian community, as they so rarely come to Vassar, and their participation in our events has made them invaluable throughout the year.”
She continued, “Most of all, it’s to enjoy the beginning of spring, show our general body how much we appreciate what they’ve done throughout the year, and bring SASA to the Vassar community as a whole.”