‘An important first step’: The Jasmine Collective provides space for South Asian political discourse, affinity bonding


Illustration by Joanna Hou

The Jasmine Collective aims to create South Asian American community and coalition on campus.

Joanna Hou, Campus Editor

Weinberg sophomores Abhi Nimmagadda and Sanjana Rajesh, a former Daily staffer, have found various undergraduate clubs at Northwestern offering affinity spaces and political discourse, but none that merged the two while also centering South Asian students. 

This gap led the two to found The Jasmine Collective, a student group committed to creating a South Asian American community and coalition. The club, which started in Spring Quarter, has plans to hold identity-based events, guest speakers and educational discussions. 

“It’s meant to be a healing space just as much as it is meant to be a space from which to organize,” Nimmagadda said. 

Though the affinity-specific spaces in the club are geared toward South Asian students, the two said they also want to pursue education as part of the club’s broader mission. In conversations with non-South Asian friends, they saw an interest in learning about topics like caste and Islamophobia in South Asian communities.

Caste is a social stratification in India and some other parts of South Asia, according to anthropology and Asian American studies Prof. Shalini Shankar. People born into lower rungs of the caste system, as well as ones born outside it entirely, experience “all kinds of social segregation as well as ongoing discrimination,” said Shankar, who advises TJC. 

Rajesh said broader community outreach helps lay the groundwork for effective organizing. TJC held its first teach-in on May 17, where the members discussed dismantling South Asian fascism in the U.S. Rajesh said it was “very exciting” to see the diversity of attendees. 

“A thing that happens at teach-ins is that you learn with other people, and it’s really motivating when you see other people are interested in this,” Rajesh said. “When you see that other people care, that also makes you want to do something about it more.” 

Shankar met Rajesh and Nimmagadda during her Fall Quarter class Asian American Studies 303: South Asian American Cultures.

There, Shankar said, the two were both “very active and vocal” about the caste system and its inequities, as well as its emergence as a problem in the U.S. She said she decided to advise the club after seeing their interest in discussing caste outside of a traditional academic setting. 

Shankar said primarily upper-caste people had the resources to move to the U.S. during major waves of immigration in 1965 and 1990 because they had desirable educational credentials. But as India started doing a “slightly more inclusive job” of bringing low-caste and no-caste individuals into higher education, more have been able to emigrate, she said. 

“This is why maybe 10 or 15 years ago, you didn’t see much discussion of caste in the South Asian American community, and now caste discrimination is much more prevalent,” Shankar said. “It’s usually in workplaces or in colleges.” 

All three said one of the club’s major goals is to have the University establish caste-based protections, but they are still developing other aims for now. 

The collective is particularly interested in the diaspora within South Asian American communities, Nimmagadda said. While “Asian American” has been used as a term for political organizing, Rajesh said certain issues do not apply to everyone who identifies under that category. The organization does not aim to replace other Asian American spaces on campus, but rather to build a broader diversity, she added. 

For Nimmagadda, “Asian American” better serves as a political organizing tool than a descriptor of cultural identity. The term does not leave much room to explore specificity, he said. 

“Disaggregating what Asian is into South Asian or Southeast Asian is very, very helpful for finding out what our communities need,” Nimmagadda said. “I’m not necessarily presuming, ‘Oh, we can’t disaggregate this further,’ but I think this is an important first step to talking about caste or Islamophobia or specific issues that are especially prevalent to South Asia.” 

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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