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First female Indian Student Association president tries to diversify club

November 2020 By Crystal Chainani

Harleen Chabbra, a junior international student studying business administration at Pepperdine University.

First female Indian Student Association president tries to diversify club

The president of the Indian Student Association club is making major changes in order to raise awareness about Indian culture at Pepperdine University.

Harleen Chabbra is a junior international student studying business administration. She is a Thai-Indian, born of Indian heritage and brought up in Bangkok, Thailand. After reactivating ISA during her sophomore year, she has not only created a safe space for Indian students to come together, but also a place for all to learn more about Indian culture.

“Indian culture is so rich and I feel like we don't recognize that enough at Pepperdine,” Chabbra said. “As the number of Indians kept increasing at Pepperdine, I realized that it's high time that we really make Pepperdine feel like our home. So that's what I did my sophomore year. I decided to take up the club and make it active again since our previous leaders weren't very proactive with running the club.”

Chabbra has helped cure many Indian students’ homesickness by making them feel a sense of comfort in being in an environment that honors their culture. She brings Indian culture to life on campus.

"Coming all the way from India, with no friends or family was hard but having ISA as a platform made it easy to connect with all the other Indians,” said Bhavya Patel, junior international business major, and ISA member. “The way Harleen handles events like the festivals that are going in India really just makes it feel like I’m at home.”

Before Chabbra was president, ISA was for the most part inactive. She is the first female ISA president Pepperdine has ever had “The fact that she did not grow up in India and is running the club is huge and upon that being a woman because ISA has only had male presidents,” Patel said. “I don’t want to name the other past presidents but I think Harleen is doing a way better job.”

Though Chabbra has accomplished making ISA a security blanket for Indian students, Chabbra thinks more needs to be done with spreading Indian cultural awareness, particularly to non-Indians.

“I think that there's not enough support when it comes to raising awareness,” Chabbra said. “The only times where we can really come out and shine our club is at the international fair or club fair, but that's already very limited in the first place. So when we do hold an event and when we do have club meetings it's still very, very hard to be able to get that message out to people who are not Indian.”

While there are many Indians that come every year to Pepperdine, South Asians still make up a small percentage of Pepperdine's student body.

“The fact that we don’t have a single person who is not of Asian descent in our group when 50% of the student body is white really does demotivate us a little bit,” Chabbra said.

“However, we have a goal to really get the message out and be able to recruit new members just interested to learn about Indian culture.”

Due to COVID-19, Chabbra has been keeping ISA alive through Zoom and Instagram. She wants the club to be recognized by the Pepperdine student body so she is taking advantage of social media to really promote ISA.

“Harleen puts so much time and effort into ISA,” said Sanskriti Sriramoju, senior economics major and ISA member. “She was able to get over 50 Pepperdine students to follow the ISA Instagram page in less than a week. I don’t know how she does it!”

Chabbra’s main goal is to diversify ISA and she said she will not stop until it happens.

“At the end of the day, the message that I want to leave behind is that there are events like Diwali and Holi that exist,” Chabbra said. “I want Pepperdine to celebrate that regardless of who’s in the club.”

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