Homecoming event interrupts Diwali celebration

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A rangoli design at the Diwali celebration on the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Oct. 21, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

The South Asian Student Association’s (SASA) Diwali celebration on the Academic Quad between Fowler and Johnson halls Oct. 21 was interrupted by cars that arrived early for a Homecoming car decorating event that was meant to start at 7:30 p.m. SASA was in the middle of a celebration and performances when the first car showed up early around 7:15 p.m.

The early car was led through the main dance floor area by Homecoming staff, over the chalk Rangoli, according to SASA E-Board member Pooja Bansiya (junior). During this time, tables related to homecoming were moved into the Diwali space, and more cars proceeded to arrive early, disrupting the celebration’s attendees who were dancing, according to Simi Fulton (senior), co-president of SASA. Fulton said though the event was scheduled to go on for another hour, these interruptions and the following uncertainty on the part of the Diwali celebrators caused the event to end early.

According to Associate Director of Donor Engagement and Events Leanne Sappington, Homecoming had reserved the space up to six months before, but was eager to work with SASA to get them the space for the Diwali celebration. Sappington worked closely with Diwali organizers and the space was designated for the Diwali celebration between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. — meaning there would only be a slight overlap with the car decorating.

Sappington said she was disappointed by the interruption of the event, and credited the mistakes to insufficient communication within her homecoming team.

“The setup was great. The decorating [for Diwali] was great. It was so beautiful. And I would love to say that there was no hitch at the end, but that made it a little sour. Unfortunately, I probably did not communicate with my team well enough,” Sappington said.

Fulton said SASA appreciated Sappington and her involvement in getting the event a space, and did not blame anyone in particular for the problems, but that the actions of some homecoming staff members and of other students showed a lack of respect for the event.

“It’s miscommunication, and so I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” Fulton said. “But I do think if it was a different type of event, like maybe if it was a different club, or if it was a sports team or something that Occidental might hold in higher value, I feel like the miscommunication wouldn’t have been there.”

Bansiya, who performed at the celebration, said that when the cars pulled up near the event and eventually were guided through, some students acted apologetic but others were laughing among themselves and recording the event in a way that made the dancers feel awkward.

“They were laughing and that made me feel really uncomfortable,” Bansiya said. “Not ashamed of my culture, but I did not feel welcome or accepted. And I know Oxy loves to say, you know, ‘culture of care’ [but] I just felt really uncomfortable and kind of ogled at. It felt really strange.”

Raina Pahade (junior), another E-board member and performer, said that this behavior denoted a lack of respect for the event, and that they felt othered.

“In general when people were bringing their cars, it almost felt like we weren’t there,” Pahade said. “[People were] like, ‘Why is this here?’ ‘Why are these people standing here?’ ‘Where is this music coming from?’ as if all of it was an inconvenience to them.”

Fulton said the number of photographers who showed up to shoot the event felt impersonal and tokenizing. SASA hired some of their own photographers, and there were others present from The Occidental and the Homecoming staff.

“There were moments where I know people within SASA have felt like this feels tokenizing,” Fulton said. “It looks good to have this diverse cultural, beautiful event in the middle of the Quad. So I think going into it, even when working with the homecoming staff, we were very aware, we are helping them as much as they’re helping us with setting up this event.”

Pahade said even before the interruptions of the Diwali celebration, the constant camera flashes did not feel respectful.

“Especially since they were in our personal space. And we’re just trying to enjoy ourselves,” Pahade said. “There’s just so much flashing and stuff. And it did take away from this really important event.”

Fulton, Bansiya and Pahade all said the interruption itself felt more like a part of a larger lack of respect than an isolated event.

“It comes to the point where sometimes you feel like the Oxy community does not value as much what cultural clubs put out,” Bansiya said. “We want Diwali to be a community event and we want it to be this place where we get to share our culture and others are able to embrace that and to love that. But it sometimes doesn’t feel like that…and it [feels] a lot more judgy.”

Fulton also said that this more general lack of respect did not come as much of a surprise.

“I wasn’t something where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m in rage right now,’” Fulton said. “I was just more like, ‘Yeah, I expected something like this to happen.’ I didn’t think this was going to be perfect, and I know what is prioritized in the school.”

Fulton said with incidents like this, an individual instance is often brushed off, because there are so many minor disrespectful moments that it makes it harder to focus much on any individual one.

“If I go through my day, thinking about every single micro-aggression that happens, I wouldn’t get through my day, I would just be stuck,” Fulton said.

With events like the interruption of Diwali, especially when there is no individual at fault, Fulton said, it is easy for the event to blow over. In fact, she is not calling for anyone to be shamed or punished. But there is a larger problem.

“When you’re talking about tokenization, and when you’re talking about like these instances and micro-aggressions, or disrespect, people always ask for examples,” Fulton said. “And in the moment, it’s easy to give the example because it’s there, but probably in a month or two it’s not going to be on the forefront of my brain. So it’s just like, ‘When is ever a good time to talk about this?’”