ABC News Now anchor Hari Sreenivasan encouraged South Asian students Friday night to look past their separate identities, such as Indian or Pakistani, and embrace their common South Asian heritage.

Angela Cesere
University of Pennsylvania student Hilal Nakiboglu speaks with students at the South Asian Awareness Network Conference at the Michigan Union on Saturday. (PETER SCHOTTENFELS/Daily)

“We have these divisions that we have to get over. … It’s our responsibility to figure out how we integrate into our community,” he said.

Sreenivasan’s speech kicked off the third annual South Asian Awareness Network Conference, which ran until yesterday, bringing together around 250 college students from across the nation and 25 speakers under the theme Progression Beyond Perceptions.

Shamik Trivedi, an LSA senior and co-chair of the conference, said the theme aimed for students to disregard their preconceptions of different peoples and adopt a more open mind so that they could work toward resolving the issues of the South Asian community.

“It tells them to take the notions that they have, whether right or wrong, and take it a step farther and mold it into something they can do after graduation,” Trivedi said.

The national conference was comprised of speeches, workshops, small group activities and vocal and dance performances by students. Speakers included Indra Nooyi, president and chief financial officer for PepsiCo, Inc. and DJ Rekha, a popular New York City DJ who was named one of the most influential South Asians in America by Newsweek magazine.

Trivedi identified the work done in the small group activities as the most vital part of the conference.

“It’s where they dissect the issues at hand, let the ideas marinate.  That’s where the development happens,” she said.

Students from several universities, including Michigan State University, Ohio State University and the University of Florida, joined University of Michigan students at the conference.

MSU junior Afra Ali said the conference was “entertaining and well-organized.”

“It makes me proud to be a South Asian,” she said.

Alumni also attended and special workshops were scheduled for them.

LSA senior and conference programmer Akshay Bajpaee said the planning process, which began last April, was long and arduous but also extremely enlightening.

“We really wanted to motivate, educate and inspire our student population,” Bajpaee said.

Sreenivasan praised the students’ efforts in his keynote address on Friday.

“The fact that a college campus can put something together like this is pretty remarkable,” he said.

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