Conference explores the gravity of social justice

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Michigan Alumni Zafar Razzacki, one of two keynote speakers at the 12th annual South Asian Awareness Network Conference, address 144 participants of the SAAN workshop this weekend. Buy this photo

By Anna Graff, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 20, 2014

Beginning Friday and continuing through Saturday evening, the South Asian Awareness Network held its annual social justice conference, entitled “Panorama: Capturing change through the lens of culture” at The Michigan League.

Business senior Gaurav Ahuja, co-conference chair, said the conference’s theme encompassed taking one of the first steps towards social change and understanding different communities’ cultures.

“Culture has no one set type or definition,” Ahuja said. “There are cultures defined by ethnicity, race, gender, geographical location, ability and so on. Our culture shapes the choices we make along with the way, and how we perceive the world and each other.”

Ahuja added that he would consider this year’s conference “the best yet.”

Guest speakers and entertainers for this year’s conference included Sedika Mojadidi, an Afghan-American documentary filmmaker; Bilal Qureshi, a multimedia journalist and reporter for National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered”; Gautam Raghavan, an adviser in The White House Office of Public Engagement and Hasan Minhaj, a comedian, actor, host and writer based in Los Angeles. Speakers participated in facilitating two keynote presentations and three workshops on their specific fields throughout the course of the weekend.

LSA sophomore Nayeem Huq, who attended the event, said she was inspired by the host of speakers and lecturers.

“This year’s conference has been the best by far,” Huq said. “It’s always an inspiration to hear the shared stories of how speakers have impacted cultural perspectives within their communities.”

In addition to 12 speakers, Panorama had a staff of 22 members in charge of planning the event, 34 facilitators, 17 flex members, four social justice team members and nearly 50 mentors and mentees. Conference attendance this year — a reported 440 attendees — was nearly double that of the previous record of 250.

Business senior Yash Bhutada, co-conference chair, said the organization has focused on growing over the past year, garnering its largest recorded conference attendance.

“We continue to be excited by everything the organization the stands for,” Bhutada said. “This year we focused a lot on visible growth and have had the largest SAAN Conference ever.”