Political engagement, inclusion, and connection: A look into 5C-wide South Asian affinity groups

Students pose with thumbs up and converse at the Hub at Claremont McKenna College.
5c-wide South Asian affinity groups are fostering spaces of connection for students. (Courtesy: Anya Sharma)

Where can you eat dosa, party to South Asian music or learn about political activism?

At the Claremont Colleges, there are two 5C-wide South Asian affinity groups, where students from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Afghanistan and the Maldives come together to build community.

The 5C South Asian Mentoring Program

The 5C South Asian Mentoring Program (SAMP) was established as a political organization in 2016 to create an inclusive community for South Asian-identifying students while also working against social issues like caste discrimination.

The group is led by Sarrah Zanzi PZ ’25, Nithya Kumar PZ ’24 and Anya Sharma PZ ’25. According to Zanzi, one of SAMP’s main goals this year is to get caste approved into the discrimination bylaws at the 5Cs. Scripps College has approved it, but the group is currently working on approval from Claremont McKenna College (CMC), Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, and Pitzer College, Zanzi said.

Kumar said that SAMP has helped her find a politically-engaged community on campus.

“Being a part of SAMP has helped me radicalize my political views,” Kumar said. “I have learned that there are lots of issues happening here that a lot of people just don’t know about.” 

SAMP holds educational events every semester aimed at informing students about prevalent issues faced by South Asian students. Their most popular is Caste 101, focused on “making people engage with the idea that casteism does exist in the U.S. and that as a community, we can do something to mobilize against it on campus,” Kumar said.

Last year, SAMP collaborated with Pitzer’s Pasifika Asian Student Union (PASU) on an event titled “Culturally Informed Survivor Care.” Sharma said that SAMP plans to collaborate with more affinity groups, including a potential collaboration with the Women of Color Collective.

Claremont South Asian Student Association

One of the largest South Asian affinity groups across the 5Cs is the Claremont South Asian Student Association (SASA), led by president Sathvika Anand HM ’24. The group aims to celebrate various South Asian cultures through community events, Anand said.

SASA prioritizes inclusivity by not holding any religious events. Anand said the club has a strict rule against religious activities because not everyone in the group shares the same religion. Instead, they focus on organizing wide-reaching and well-utilized group functions.

One of SASA’s biggest events is a professor mixer, a networking event for members to meet South Asian-identifying professors across the 5Cs. Mehrin Khan CM ’26, an international student from Bangladesh and SASA member, said that the mixer allowed her to connect with her computer science professor outside of the classroom. 

Another popular event is Desi Beats, a party hosted by SASA featuring South Asian music. Khan said that Desi Beats is the most fun party for her in the fall semester.

“Having a party with all the Bollywood songs going on, everyone dancing — that’s just a different experience,” Khan said.

After the success of their collaborations last year with Black Student Union groups and the Asian Pacific American Student Association, Anand said SASA also hopes to host workshops around mental health and queer identities as well as collaborate with other affinity groups across the 5Cs.

Being a part of SASA has allowed Anand to express her ideas and South Asian identity. After going to a family member’s wedding and seeing a dosa (Indian pancake) stand, she thought it would be something that students on campus would enjoy. 

So Anand decided to include it in SASA’s welcome event last year. “We had 150-200 people show up and just sit there with us,” Anand said. “It was such a good time.”

For Khan, who doesn’t know any other students from Bangladesh at CMC, SASA allowed her to connect with South Asian students at other campuses. Still, she said that it could also be challenging to be one of the few Bangladeshi members of the group. 

“We speak different languages; even though I can speak Hindi and Urdu, my own native language is not that,” Khan said. “We have different foods, too. We usually ordered Indian food. Even though I like the taste, it is not my own home food.” 

Despite these differences, Khan said that connecting with other students at SASA made her feel “a little less homesick.” 

This is the first article in a series profiling affinity groups on campus. Students interested in joining SAMP can learn more @5Csamp on Instagram; those interested in joining SAS can learn more via Instagram @claremont.sasa.

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