This Sunday, PERMIAS, an Ohio University Indonesian Student Association, and Southeast Asian Students Association (SEASA) will hold a night dedicated to celebrating Southeast Asian culture open to all students as well as members of Athens.
The event is sponsored by the International Student Union and will include various performances, such as dances and singing, as well as food, all to showcase the Southeast Asian traditions and customs through an entertaining and informative scope. The night will highlight cultural aspects of several countries such as Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Ihsan Faris, is the co-coordinator for the event. Faris mentions the purpose of the event is to couple the breadth of OU curriculum with a celebratory occasion to commemorate the elements of Southeast Asia.
“I’m very grateful that there are language programs here at OU that accommodate and encourage people to learn more about Southeast Asia,” Faris said. “But we want to go beyond teaching the language and also celebrate and inform people about our culture by having this event and having a feast with them.”
Junia Purwandani, a master’s student studying environmental studies, is the treasurer of PERMIAS. Purwandani expresses that celebrations like these can serve as a platform for individuals to publicly share their culture, which they often do not have the chance to do.
“Sometimes students need a place to show their cultural identity and I think it’s important to let other people know about countries they’ve never been to,” Purwandani said. “It’s a way of promoting their culture to others.”
For Faris, the promotion of his culture will be more direct, as he will be taking part in one of the many performances taking place at the event.
“I’m going to be performing myself so I’m really excited to show my Indonesian culture,” Faris said. “But I’m also excited to see the culture performed by other Southeast Asian students because honestly, even if we are all from Southeast Asia, it’s rare to see such performances from other countries.”
Faris believes that the significance in sharing Southeast Asian customs resides in the fact that the region is frequently marginalized in the discussion of Asian culture as a whole.
“I think that to some extent, Southeast Asia, compared to other parts of Asia, is less represented,” Faris said. “So we think that this part of Asia needs to be promoted and celebrated to bring diversity to this university.”
Ashley Kafton, a graduate student studying international development studies, is the president of SEASA and the co-coordinator of the event. Kafton believes the viewpoint of other cultures is often constrained by prejudice and a minimal willingness to learn. However, she believes that cultural events like Southeast Asian Night can help to reduce this issue, offering students a glimpse into different cultures.
“A lot of times different regions of the world are so exoticized and are made to be viewed as an ‘other’ and the extent of the exposure is so limited,” Kafton said. “But having events like these is kind of a humanizing thing.”
Alongside this, Kafton also emphasizes the importance of building a connection between domestic and international students in an effort to increase the representation and awareness of Southeast Asian students on campus.
“We really want to raise the profile of Southeast Asia here,” Kafton said. “OU used to have a really large Southeast Asian studies program. But since budget cuts and funding, the impact of it has decreased a bit. So we’re really hoping that this event will jumpstart that and get OU international and domestic students interested in Southeast Asia again.”
Kafton is grateful for OU’s inclusivity and how it continues to form cultural events like these that contribute to the diversification of the public and build a deeper understanding of other’s experiences.
“I think it’s really great that even in Athens, Ohio we can have such incredible cultural experiences because there's a really rich and vibrant international student population here,” Kafton said. “So I think it's wonderful that they are so willing to open up their culture to us and celebrate it.”