Students Connect Diverse Groups with Cultural Fusion Month

Posted: December 13, 2010 at 1:04 am, Last Updated: December 10, 2010 at 5:32 pm

By Aisha Jamil

Mixing and matching different cultural clothing has become a Cultural Fusion tradition. Creative Services photo

Planning a monthlong event that fully engages hundreds of people is a daunting task, but for Mason students Minu Ramanan, Naliyah Kaya and Qian Yao, it was an exciting challenge.

Together, the three coordinated Cultural Fusion Fairfax 2010, held at Mason in October to engage students, faculty and staff in learning about and experiencing different cultures.

“It is not just a celebration of culture, but a cultural immersion experience,” says Ramanan, a senior majoring in biology and chemistry with a minor in business.

In 2008, Ramanan and Kaya, a PhD student in sociology, were chatting at a local coffee shop when they came up with the idea of creating an event in which diversity was reflected in a lively way.

International Week is celebrated at Mason in the spring, but Ramanan and Kaya thought that an activity bringing international and American students together during the beginning of the fall semester would also help the groups establish relationships earlier.

“I came to Mason because it was known for its diversity,” Ramanan says. “However, there was no platform for students to interact or exchange their (cultural) ideas. We asked ourselves, ‘What is the simplest way to bring different groups of people together?’”

For them, the answer was easy: fun.

Thus, Cultural Fusion Field Day was born.

Cultural Fusion Times 30

Gathering interest and support, the two young women started the Cultural Fusion Committee, with Ramanan as head of operations and Kaya as volunteer coordinator. Yao, a finance major, was the outreach coordinator and served as the liaison to the Office of Student Involvement.

At its core, the committee has 10 people. This year, another 15 to 20 people helped out.

About five months before the third annual field day was scheduled, the committee decided to expand it to a monthlong event.

“The idea of Cultural Fusion being a monthlong event had been forming in our heads for a while,” Ramanan says. “However, it wasn’t until Professor (Domenico) Napoletani and the Center for Global Islamic Studies approached us that (the committee) realized we could become a marketing platform for other organizations’ events.”

“Cultural Fusion is not a specific product but an experience, and it is much harder to market an experience because every year that experience will change. Our goal was to keep what we offer constant so students can create their own experience and walk away enlightened,” Ramanan says.

Student Organizations Join the Bandwagon

Getting the cooperation and participation of many student organizations, along with support from University Life, was key to the event’s success.

Student organizations sponsored and led different aspects of the kick-off days. For example, the student organization Circle K International ran the sign-in tent, while the Indian Graduate Students Association led the soccer and Kabaddi (a sport popular in Bangladesh and India) matches.

A table fair featured other student clubs and organizations.

The student organizers realized that fun was the glue that would bring people together. Creative Services photo

As part of the fun, students brought in their own cultural clothing to share and tried on clothes from different cultures. Then they could take photos of themselves dressed up at a photo booth. Tau Delta Phi, a major sponsor, built a “cultural wall” featuring photos of students from different backgrounds.

“I’ve seen cultural fusions before, but Cultural Fusion Fairfax 2010 truly portrayed the potential that a small, dynamic group of students can achieve,” says Juan Cruz, a senior psychology major and member of Tau Delta Phi.

“Cultural Fusion (comprised) so many groups that I half-wanted to complain about the font size of the sponsors on its T-shirts,” Cruz jokes.

The last two weeks of the month emphasized the arts. Carla Marcantonio, assistant professor of English, held a film discussion on globalization and other film elements of the movie “The Host,” while the Capoeira Club and the Sikh Student Association hosted workshops and discussion panels on their dances.

“At the Sikh students’ performance workshop, anyone could come play the musicians’ ancient Indian instruments before the show. It was pretty incredible that they let people interact in such a way,” Ramanan says.

The Dhrupad Singers concert showcased internationally renowned Indian singer Uday Bhawalker and musician Sanjay Agal, who performed free of charge.

“Dhrupad-style singing is from the time of Akbar, an emperor from Mughal times who was known to bring the diverse cultures of Hindus and Muslims together,” Ramanan explains.

Cultural Fusion Month came to a close with an awards ceremony for participants and Diwali Mela, the Hindu “festival of lights.”

The Tradition Continues

“As someone who has worked in international education for many years, I am impressed by the creativity, energy and time that had gone into making this event successful,” says Kathy Trump, associate dean for University Life.

She adds, “The students who worked on this event got it right — Mason’s diversity is even more valuable when we bring students, faculty and staff together to share and learn from that diversity.”

Even though many of the committee members will graduate next May, Ramanan pledges that the concept of Cultural Fusion will carry on. A transition team is set to meet during the spring semester to analyze data from 2010 and discuss future possibilities.

“This month reminded me of my lack of knowledge of other cultures, and in doing so, taught me to do better, to communicate better, to understand more comprehensively,” Cruz says.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu