5C South Asian Mentor Program to Announce Inaugural Mentors

The newly created 5C South Asian Mentorship Program (SAMP) will announce its first group of mentors the week of Apr. 24. SAMP is the project of Nikita Akkala SC ’17, Aiman Chaudhary PO ’17, Justin Joseph PO ’17, Shravya Raju SC ’17, and Meghana Rao PO ’16, who began planning SAMP in spring 2015.

SAMP, per its name, will train students to mentor incoming first years and transfer students who identify as South Asian. The program will also seek to increase the visibility of the 5C South Asian community through outreach activities and provide a space for discussion of South Asian identities among students, staff, and faculty.

The students behind the program have reached out to faculty, staff, and existing Asian American and Pacific Islander (API) resources such as the Asian-American Resource Center (AARC). Ric Townes, associate dean of student mentoring and leadership at Pomona, has been involved in designing the program since its inception.

“We're trying to make this as large-scale as possible, and in fact we think that this could be a good place to start for increased mentor program collaboration,” said Rao.

Akkala also spoke on the significance of SAMP for people of South Asian identity across the 5Cs.

“I wish I had a program like this,” Akkala said, “When we were first years, just to provide a space to explore identity and to have a mentor who has similar identity but could have various perspectives on issues and stuff that you could feel comfortable talking to.”

The program seeks to provide not only mentorship but also a space to discuss the diversity of South Asian identities and to connect South Asian students and faculty.

“There's a huge diversity within the South Asian community: there's international students, there's South Asian-American students, there are those who are first generation, second generation,” said Raju.

She continued, “There's a lot of different stories [in the South Asian community] and we're really hoping to build a basis for talking about those identities and being able to communicate, like, 'These are my experiences' and understanding that the common identity is there, while still celebrating that diversity.”

Although SAMP will be unaffiliated with existing API organizations on campus, including AARC, it will still collaborate with them.

SAMP’s programming will not be restricted to student resources. The students behind it emphasized the importance of having South Asian faculty on campus who could benefit from a South Asian identity space. Faculty who feel like their identities have become second priority to their work have expressed appreciation for SAMP.

“There are quite a few South Asian staff, faculty members, students here at the 5Cs, but we just don't know each other,” said Rao. “We don't get connected to each other, it's definitely an untapped resource. It's a way to support each other when you face something that is very specific to your cultural background.”

On Mar. 31, an event was held at the AARC titled “Desi Table: Where’s My ASAM Class?! Navigating the Erasure of South Asians in API spaces,” where South Asian students could discuss their experiences on campus relating to API identities and South Asian identities, including lack of representation in existing affinity spaces. Many expressed concerns that South Asians were underrepresented in conversations about Asian American experiences in classes and API identity spaces.

Sumi Pendakur, associate dean for institutional diversity at Harvey Mudd College and director of the Office of Institutional Diversity, attended the event as a speaker. Pendakur was also reached out to by SAMP to develop their program.

Rao explained that she and other students felt SAMP was necessary because a South Asian-specific program could suit the cultural particularities of the South Asian community better than a general affinity group could.

“Certain cultural differences… can make certain topics harder to discuss, or there are certain stigmas that are within the south asian community that maybe other cultures here might not necessarily understand or might not identify with,” said Rao.

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