HAPPENINGS AT ISW
by Trishna Nikte
Trishna Nikte is a rising senior and a captain of the SHS Speech team. Her delivery of this Original Oratory piece won her a Octafinalist position at the NCFL National Finals amongst thousands of students across the country. - Ed.
Ok, be honest. What do you guys think of the suit?? I wasn’t really sure about it at first, but my mom liked it; and as I’m sure many of us know, moms can never be wrong.
Now imagine if I walked into this room today in a sari, a piece of traditional Indian clothing. I’d borrow one from my mom, one of her nicest ones, the kind she’d wear to work when she lived in India. Would I be singled out as “that weird girl who wore a sari to a speech tournament”? Would I be taken as seriously? Would I still fit in? Or I actually don’t know how that would go, but honestly, I’m afraid to try. As much as I would love to display a piece of my culture in front of all of you and be unique, I’m afraid of feeling different from everyone else.
Most children in this country, regardless of their background, have felt the need to hide some piece of their identity at some point in their schooling career. This need can plague adolescent minds, especially those of children who don’t fit into the mold of a typical straight, white, cisgender child. Today, let’s try to understand why it's so easy for children with all different backgrounds to forgo pieces of their identities in school. Next, let’s look into the negative effects this can have, and finally, we’ll try to understand some ways we can narrow down the reach of this pressing issue.
Now I’ve learned from a very young age that it’s better to conform to the culture I see around me, than try to be different. In first grade, on picture day, I wore my prettiest Indian outfit to school. It was a bejeweled black blouse with a gorgeous red skirt under. I walked into school feeling so confident that day, like I’d never looked any better. But the second I walked into class, the stares I got, the whispers I heard behind my back, they told me I didn’t belong. I spent the whole day disappointed. I was only in first grade, how was I to know that my “exotic” culture was probably best appreciated only at home? Ever since that day in first grade, I’ve been afraid to try again. I wake up every day, put on my yoga pants and my hoodie, and I sit through my classes, trying to blend in as best I can.
As a society, we teach our kids to conform, instead of embracing their differences. This causes children to start drifting away from parts of their identity, especially at school, to feel more like they belong. Researcher Justin Saldana focused a lot of his time on conformity in schools, and how schools are where children are taught to transmit culture. But one of his biggest questions is “Whose culture is being transmitted?” More often than not, the culture students are taught to follow in schools is hyperfocused on straight, white, cisgender students, and doesn’t leave much room for anyone who doesn’t fall into this niche. Children who lack these commonalities then start distancing themselves from parts of their own identity, just to chase a sense of belonging. Saldana says that if “schools have a certain set of beliefs regarding how students should look, think and behave, then students will be stifled in their opportunities to discover, share, and take pride in who they are.”
Many children of color in schools battle with this issue every day. How can we go to school and leave half of our identity at home? In an article from Beachwood High School in Ohio, written by Hiba Ali, students were asked about their thoughts on assimilating cultures, and how they felt their home cultures and their school culture came together. Ali wrote that “students feel pressure to hide certain parts of their cultural identity to be more like the people around them”. Student responses aligned with this, as many of them talked about how trying to assimilate caused them to give up parts of their own identities, and instead try to be like the rest. Sophomore Amelie Cotta had said that the culture in their school was white, privileged, and much like High School Musical. Senior Prerna Mukherjee had said that “People don’t always feel like they can be themselves,” and that there was a constant pressure to change. As Ali writes, this pressure is created by the fact that society brings forth “a sense of shame regarding differences, causing minorities to feel a need to hide them.” And trying to fit in has its own repercussions as well. In the school space, the slang term “white washed” is often used to describe peers who act more like their white peers versus how they would act within their own culture. Students use this term to tease others who may be hiding their ethnic identities behind American culture. Pejorative terms like ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside and white on the inside), and ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside and white on the inside), are thrown around to imply that someone is betraying their race. But coming from a cultural background myself, I know how hard it is to amalgamate cultures and create one single identity.
This problem is only further exacerbated by the school system itself. Let’s look at my school district. Across nearly 6,000 students in our district, 33.6% of the body is Asian. 9.5% is Hispanic, and 3.4% is African American. Of our 450 teachers, I know of two Asian teachers, one Hispanic teacher, and just one African American teacher, none of whom I’ve studied under. I’ve never had a teacher who looks like me, celebrates the same festivals as me, or speaks the same language as me. Consciously or subconsciously, our school systems continue perpetrating exclusive cultures that don’t reflect the students or their backgrounds. The majority white staff teaches white values, making students feel that there is only one specific school culture that they must conform to.
But there are many important steps that we can take as schools and individuals to help students in school realize that they do belong in their classrooms. Michael Petrilli of Education Next establishes several steps that schools can take to try to eliminate the restricting cultures that have emerged over the course of many years. One of the solutions he mentions is to adopt culturally affirming instructional materials. In simple terms, this means to teach students about the diversity in America, and show them how to celebrate our differences. Another way to tackle the problem right at its root would be simply to hire more teachers with diverse backgrounds, making it known to students that they can be themselves.
On an individual level, it’s important to immerse ourselves in environments where we can thrive and flourish, and continue to support the people around us. Earlier this year at my school, student council decided to hold Culture Day as part of spirit week, where students could come to school dressed in their cultural clothing and celebrate their differences. When I first heard the idea, I was genuinely excited to share the Indian culture that I am so very proud of. But the more thought I gave it, the more scared I became. What if people thought I was weird, or treated me differently? After much deliberation, I decided that I wouldn’t dress up. That was until I talked to some of my friends, and realized that I wasn’t alone in my reservations. We were all afraid to be different. And so, we decided to be different together! Around 50 of us, out of 2000 students, decided we would all come to school in our ethnic clothes, and celebrate with each other. I’ll admit, 50 out of 2000 isn’t a big number, but that’s all it took. We all walked into school feeling so confident, just like I had in the first grade. And I didn’t feel left out for even a second. I felt so proud to display my exotic culture once again. Bringing my Indian culture into my school has helped me realize that I don’t have to hide who I truly am. I’m lucky to say that I am so proud of my culture and traditions. I am lucky to say that I love the clothes we wear and the food we eat. And I’m done hiding all of that behind my westernized behavior. My cultural identity is my strength. Not my weakness. And I’m done holding myself back. Writing this speech hasn’t magically expelled all my fears from my life, but it does mean that I’m going to start tackling my fears, one by one. I hope that one day I feel brave enough to wear a sari to a speech tournament. But until then, I hope to continue creating an environment in which no first grader is afraid to wear their hijab, or their kimono, or even, their sari.
WEW & IYG: Next generation speaks, life beyond academics;
--A parent’s perspective of the event
The event started with the panelists and participants introducing themselves and their favorite ice cream. I must say that ‘Cookies and cream’ seemed to be a universally enjoyed flavor. Thepanelists included students who were seniors and on their way to college (Karisma and Kiara), with some juniors (Ninad, Trishna) and rising juniors (Aashi, Dhruv). The event was moderated by a fellow next-gen Trishna Nikte. She enquired about the daily life of a high schooler, and everyone chimed in on their schedule. It was very gratifying to hear how all kids had a good mix of academics and extra-curricular activities. Based on their responses, the panelists then delved into how they manage their routines. As a parent listening to these students speak, instilled a sense of confidence as to how mature the next-gen students are. They shared their successes and trepidations about academic life and beyond. The mantra across the panel was similar, find your own path of success. The discussion got more interesting when the panel interacted with the audience. Questions ranged from how to manage time as a teen, college applications and most importantly how to manage parents! One of the big points of conversation was whether parents are overbearing and intrusive in the teenager’s lives. The panel also reiterated that spending time with family was a great stress buster. The panel also highlighted that through open lines of communication, they were able to reduce the worries of the parents. To diversify the parent-teen conversation, the audience included some middle schoolers, and they brought out their thoughts and ideas on how they would approach high school. The discussion ended with a dance performance from the Darshana Jani group and well-deserved ice cream!
So, if you ask me what I learnt, I will say “Trust, Patience and Belief in your teenager is the path of healthy aging!”
by Kirti Nagpal
The Humrahee program on May 27th was attended by a record number of members from our community . We learnt in detail about the five wishes and Health proxy from highly revered Mr. Girish Mehta, founder and executive director of Indian Circle of Caring. We were able to talk about a grim topic with objectivity and get insight and answers to all the queries about Living Will and Health Proxy. The workshop was preceded by an energetic dance session involving some twist and gyration moves with Ekta Jain from Ekta Dance Academy. The event included a very lively karaoke session with people coming on stage and singing popular songs from the 70’s and 80’s . The audience sang along and enjoyed it equally with the singers!!!
Thanks to Sharat ji and Narayan ji for all their efforts. Would also like to give special and heartfelt thanks to Mr. Girish Mehta. Hope to see you all at the next Humrahee program in June.
by Neha Kaushal
“Let’s Celebrate HER”, a one of a kind event, hosted for the first time at India Center by the Women Empowering Women and Symphony team, on May 12th, 2023 to celebrate Mother’s Day! An evening where we saw 150+ ladies dazzling in their sarees, in Yash Raj theme, ready to celebrate themselves with their support groups, circle of friends, mothers, mother in-laws, daughters, and much more!! India Center was buzzing with laughter, fun, songs, dance, glamor, and glitter!! All the beautiful ladies were extremely happy and delighted when they were welcomed with return favors right when they walked in!
The event was kicked off by WEW chair Prof. Snehalata Kadam, talking about the mission and vision of the platform, where she was heard saying ‘the mission of this platform is to support, motivate, and most importantly empower each other’. Mrs. Sarita Deshpande, ISW Symphony Chair, was then called upon to give an overview of the initiative, ISW's new hub and platform of many popular performing art forms - such as music, dance, theater and visual arts like drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and films and stand-alone art form such as literature. We also had ISW’s Vice President, Prof. Jagan Srinivasan address the audience, giving them an overall update on the new India Center and array of events ISW has been conducting.
Mrs. Neha Kaushal, WEW team member then introduced two very strong community leaders, Mrs. Jaya Pandey, Chief Guest and Mrs. Jharna Madan, Guest of honor, who graciously accepted to be a part of this spectacular event. Mrs. Shiamin Melville felicitated both our guests with plaques and bouquets of flowers. Mrs. Jaya Pandey, talked about her journey as a mother and ideas about what a village should be and why everyone should have a village. Mrs. Jharna Madan also spoke about the power of motherhood, women empowerment and what we can do for each other, including our future generations.
The event then progressed into the fun segment that was planned by integral WEW team members Mrs. Kajal Kaushik Dixit and Mrs. Puja Harkut Rathi. They both took the stage as emcees of the event, giving our audience an overview of the second half of the segment, which included games, singing, dancing, and the most liked section i.e. our “ramp walk”, which was enjoyed by one and all! Everyone in our audience was a model for the evening and walked the ramp in their own unique style!!
We also had singers from the Indian Beatles, Mrs. Neha Maheshwari Rathi and Mrs. Padma Shenoy, who took us back to the nostalgic era of the 90's with their melodious singing. Mrs. Ekta Jain, from Ekta Dance Academy along with her team set the stage on fire dancing to Yash Raj songs, while we could see the crowd cheering and dancing along!!
Thank you to our sponsors Dr. Vinay Nikam from Ekdant Developers (NRI Bungalow Resort Project, Near Goa), and Mrs. Geena Virmani from Homes by Geena, for giving our winners absolutely gorgeous gifts. The group game winners received a gift hamper from Mrs. Geena Virmani, while the second & third raffle prize winners received some beautiful hand-woven sarees. The first winner from the raffle won a handloom stitched Paithani saree! Thank you to Dr. Nikam for bringing them all the way from India!
Lastly, thank you to all our audience who attended the event and made it a grand success!!
Maurya Virmani Gold Young Adults 16-25
Anand Chintapalli Silver Young Adults 16-25
Prachet Mahawar Bronze Young Adults 16-25
Priya Vaidya Bronze Adults 25+
Geetanjali Virmani Silver Adults 25+
In 2003, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation founded the President’s Volunteer Service Award to recognize the important role of volunteers in America’s strength and national identity. This award honors individuals whose service positively impacts communities in every corner of the nation and inspires those around them to take action, too.
The PVSA has continued under each administration, honoring the volunteers who are using their time and talents to solve some of the toughest challenges facing our nation.
Led by the AmeriCorps and managed in partnership with Points of Light, this program allows Certifying Organizations to recognize their most exceptional volunteers.
Do sign up for next year
Art, a universal language that transcends borders, cultures, and time.
ISW’s Art festival 2023, a Spring theme Art event that brought together artists from across Massachusetts to showcase their artworks and share their unique perspectives on art.
The festival returned with varied art forms with exceptional craftsmanship, Live art demos by artists, Panel Discussion, Artisanal, Art Competitions and Folk dance performances.
The festival provided an opportunity for artists to share their stories and inspiration with the audience. Many of them spoke about the personal experiences, their journeys and emotions that motivated their work, as well as the techniques and methods they used to create their art. Some even offered live demonstrations, giving visitors a firsthand look at how they created their pieces.
The wide range of art forms at the festival includes traditional Indian painting (Mithila Madhubani), three-dimensional sculpting in materials such as ceramic and metal, clay modeling, abstract painting, crochet, jewelry design, botanical art, wood carving, decoupage, and origami. Each form is unique, with its own techniques and materials, and offers a diverse range of creative expression.
One of the most captivating demonstrations was ‘Raamlila’ street style theater performed by child artists. They brought to life stories of Raam and Sita from Hindu epic Ramayana in a very fun and entertaining way. Child artists played multiple characters during the 15 mins skit and enacted all the roles so effortlessly that it kept (especially the youngest members) the audience engaged.
Another artist showcased her work in painting live on a canvas within a few minutes and turning it into a beautiful picture.
The festival also provided a platform to artisan vendors selling their unique handicraft items to the visitors.
The festival offered something for everyone to enjoy from delicious food catered by Honest (Lowell) to an interesting spring theme for art contests and attracted an audience of 600+ people.
written by ~ Sonam Ahuja
More here :
by Ragoo Raghunathan
This month's PEN event - 'Open Networking - Inspire and be Inspired' was a great success if you ask me. We had over 40 registrations and most of them attended the event, given that it was the Easter weekend and many had plans that were not on their minds when they registered for the event. In any case we had a great turn out. This time the event was based around getting to know the fellow attendees, their profession, interests and hobbies - all in the efforts to make a stronger membership and more wholesome ISW-PEN initiative.
We started off with introductions of the newly recruited committee members - Resmi Nair, Milind Kanitkar and Tejas Shah. While Kelly and I co-hosted the event as co-chairs we welcomed at least 8 new faces in the audience. These were people who had heard about our initiative through their friends and other networks, and were attending for the first time. The goal of this event was also to collect ideas on what sorts of events we could hold in the upcoming months, and which area each one of the attendees would be comfortable contributing in. We had 2 white board full of ideas and we are organizing them in sub groups. You will all hear more about this in the upcoming newsletter write-ups. The event ended with some creative, out-of-the box card stacking and tower building skills from the audience - which turned out to be a fantastic team building activity and brought out some laughs and arguments justifying their creations.
Overall, it was an enjoyable morning over the yummy samosas and chai while the audience got to socialize before and after the event.
Congratulations to the winners of the Chess tournament :
You can view all the pictures of the tournament here
1st Place : Ana Thoras
1st Place :
2nd Place :
3rd Place :
4th Place Tie:
5th Place Token Of Appreciation:
6th Place Token Of Appreciation:
7th Place Tie Token Of Appreciation:
An article by Neha Kaushal
ISW-WEW organized this event on Saturday, April 8 th from 3:00 to 5:00 PM.
The chair of the program, Prof. Snehalata Kadam, along with our executive committee member Mrs. Anupama Deb Roy, welcomed the guests and the team members, Mrs. Neha Kaushal, Mrs. Kajal Kaushik and Mrs. Pooja Rathi, with a brief introduction about Women Empowering Women program’s mission and vision, and the importance of the much-needed event topic ‘Mental Well-Being’, in today’s world.
The event was then kicked off by our panelists, Dr. Kalyani Krishnan, Dr. Pooja Saraff and Dr. Ami Popat-Jain, introducing themselves to the audience. The panel discussion started with avery simple yet curious question – ‘what made you chose this as your career’? One of our panelists, Kalyani Krishnan talked about the unique path and her own inquisitiveness that led her to complete six degrees along with a PhD, and how she wanted to understand the holistic view of one’s emotions, before she could help them, she very specifically mentioned ‘I view you all as experts of your own life’….!
Neha Kaushal & Snehalata Kadam, the event moderator, then engaged the panelists with a question that comes to every individual’s mind – ‘What is mental health? When do we know we need to work on our mental health’? Pooja Saraff, our panelists mentioned ‘when you’re not feeling yourself, and its starting to affect your life’, that’s your first flag. The highlight of this discussion was ‘Don’t set the threshold too high to go see a therapist, and it’s ok to seek help’, as Ami Popat-Jain quoted. The discussion ranged from what the panelists had seen over the past two years, specially post pandemic, how it affected the social anxiety issues in different parts of the society, how kids missed out on their social development with their peers during the pandemic, and how as individuals we are all still trying to settle back and bring back normalcy in our own lives.
A key aspect of this event was when the floor was opened to the hall full of audiences, that ranged from some teenagers, young professionals, curious parents and even grandparents. We had questions ranging from how do we get our grandkids to get away from screen time, to the three top reasons for mental health issues in the past five years, to raising awareness in the community, and how the younger generation is more aware and open to talking about mental health well-being, etc. The event concluded by providing the audience with some useful information on how to find a psychologist, family therapists, and sharing the contact information of our panelists.
If you missed out on the event, here is a link to watch the recording: https://www.facebook.com/iswonline/videos/610174184001898.
Please feel free to reach out to us if you would like to get in touch with the panelists for further communication.