The South Asian Council received the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial and Intercultural Peace and Harmony, chosen from among 16 groups for their work in building a platform for the South Asian community.
The prize, established and endowed by Thomas W. Jones ’69, is given annually “to the program or organization making the most significant contribution to furthering the ideal of university community while respecting the values of diversity,” according to a description of the reception, held in Willard Straight Hall on Monday.
“It’s important to celebrate students and provide support for an institution like Cornell in terms of being an example to America about how to take our diversity and really make it a wonderful strength,” Jones said in his speech.
“The Perkins Prize epitomizes the value that Cornell University should not only invite individuals from a variety of backgrounds, but it should also love them,” said Vijay Pendakur, dean of students. “We must create a sense of belonging.”
SAC was honored for their work in creating the “Chai and Chat” dialogue series, receiving $5,000 toward more projects.
Chai and Chat “engages South Asian students, who are themselves diverse in language, religion and culture, as well as other identity groups across campus,” President Martha E. Pollack said.
The series began “as a small and informal way to get the South Asian community together,” said Aliza Adhami ’19, advocacy chair for SAC “But we’ve been very deliberate about creating more intersectional topics and programs to broaden our reach and work with other communities within both the minority umbrella and campus at large.”
“We aim to spark dialogue about identity, what it means to be South Asian, whether you are Hindu, Muslim, Indian, Pakistani or one of the myriad of identities included under that term,” Adhami said.
Adhami recounted that as a Pakistani Muslim, the SAC has offered a platform “to come together across religious, national, and ethnic divides.”
“South Asians have done so much for this country but we do not have a unified voice, and we hope to change that,” Adhami said.
In the past, the SAC has addressed Islamophobia and anti-black sentiment within the South Asian community, queer identities, working-class South Asians, among other topics, all recognized by Pollack and Adhami during the reception.
Chai and Chats aims to further the “inclusivity of intersectional social identities,” according to Shivani Parikh ’19, president of SAC.
“We want to do more Chai and Chats so we can have a larger diversity of topics and of people,” Parikh said.
Pendakur praised SAC’s events as representative of “how students can organize events that not only are fun but that bring different kinds of communities together to have really important dialogues about culture, history, power and identity in our communities.”
Pendakur also said that he was looking forward to the continued efforts of SAC to create coalitions, which are “about building bridges across differences in order to get something changed or done and caucuses are about building only within your own group.”
“I think the road that SAC is already traveling is focusing on coalitions and I’d like to see them continue to invest in that,” he said.
The organization hopes to channel the prize on a focus of “increasing intersectional programming,” according to Adhami.
Parikh also said the money would help give support to SAC’s member organizations that are often turned away due to the previously small allocation given to SAC.
“With the $5,000, we’re excited to be able to give more money to our dance teams and include intra-community awards at Mock Shaadi to celebrate the members of our community who have been doing really great work,” Parikh said.