I remember at freshman orientation back in the summer of 2008 when I was given a list of more than 2,000 student organizations on campus. I remember looking at this list, thinking I already knew exactly which groups I would be a part of. My high-school student council experience pushed me toward the Michigan Student Assembly — now the Central Student Government. My progressive political stance pushed me toward College Democrats. I thought I had it all figured out. But then this little thing called IASA came into my life. After much pressure and prodding, I signed up to be a dancer in the Indian American Student Association’s annual cultural show. Before I knew it, I was immersed in the Indian community at the University, and before long, I was exposed to the other organizations that fall under the South Asian umbrella on our campus. That’s how the South Asian Awareness Network became a part of my life.
If you talked to most of my friends and asked them what I care about the most on campus, I’m sure that 99 percent of them would respond immediately with SAAN — the student organization that I have had the privilege of making a part of my life for the past three years. A lot of people think I’m crazy. I spent a majority of my sophomore year staying up until 5 a.m. in the Fish Bowl just so I could handle 18 credits and my responsibilities as a marketing chair for SAAN. Junior year was spent working to coordinate innovative conference content and trying to woo speakers, such as the deputy chief of mission of India, to the United States. And finally, my experience came full circle as a senior, when I had the honor of serving as chair for the organization that changed my life, and I was able to help fuel the passions of 18 individuals who I know will help SAAN continue its legacy.
There are more than 2,000 student organizations on campus — from Greek Life, to service organizations, to Churros for Change. Each organization has its role at the University, and not one is less deserving than another of having a place on campus. Student organizations have the unique ability to bring people from different backgrounds together on the basis of a singular cause. This was certainly the case when I went to my first SAAN conference as a freshman. Blown away by the professionalism and extent of the conference, I realized that there was a place for me to meld my heritage with my passion for social change. I ran with the opportunity I was given as a marketing chair and continued my passion through my different positions on the Central Planning Team.
But what I found after our conference in January — which always seems to fall on the coldest weekend of the year — is not that I learned so much about social justice and activism, but that there are no other individuals with whom I would rather have created that conference. This is the beauty of a student organization. Building relationships with other people who shared my passions — and making them my best friends at the same time — turned me into the person I am today. I wouldn’t consider myself a social justice activist if it weren’t for the chair who challenged me to think differently when I was a sophomore, or my co-chairs over the years who have forced me to accept things as they come. There is no one who better understands how I function than the people who have spent a year with me on the Central Planning Team, nor will there be anyone who I will count on as much as I count on those individuals. SAAN — and the experiences that I have had through my work with the organization — has forever molded me into the social justice activist that I am today. My career choice, my day-to-day decisions, the way I lead — all of these are results of the leader I have become through my work with SAAN. And for that I will be forever thankful and appreciative.
Vidhi Bamzai is a Public Policy senior and the chair of the South Asian Awareness Network.