Imani Choudhury, a senior health and human services major, starts her day by praying at 6 a.m. While most other students slide on jeans and a hoodie, Choudhury picks out a kameez – a colorful, traditional Bangladeshitunic. Long and full-sleeved, it extends down to her hips, accompanied by apair of skinny jeans. She makes sure to cover every inch of her body, including her hair, which she covers with a scarf.
Choudhury has been a member ofBangladeshi Student Association since her freshman year. The BSA is a cultural organization that promotes the history and traditions of Bangladesh through various on-campus events. The club has been making changes recently. This spring semester, the BSA has elected a new e-board.
That new board includes Noorul Gazi, a junior occupational therapy and psychology major and the new Pakistani president of the BSA.
Gazi has been a member of the BSA since her freshman year, when she was first introduced to the BSA secretary. The two became fast friends. For the last three years, Gazi has witnessed the BSA struggle with finding its identity on campus. Last semester, when the BSA president was stepping down, Gazi decided to take charge and redefine the goals of the club, even though she is not Bangladeshi.
"Before coming to UB, I didn't know what Bangladesh was; I didn't know a lot of things about the culture," Gazi said. "Coming here, I have learned so much more, being exposed to such diverse culture."
Gazi wants the BSA to become a more prominent club with more diverse members.
"I didn't think about me being Pakistani when I was taking over. It didn't really matter. What's important is saving the culture and promoting BSA," Gazi said.
Gazi has learned the Bangladeshi culture, values, and customs. She aims to plan events that will allow students to accept and embrace the Bangladeshi ways.
"Every culture has something unique about itself; it's interesting to know about it," Gazi said. "It's rewarding, as you know something about a different culture. You feel better about yourself too, as you want to learn about your culture too. You get out of your daily life and learn something new."
Getting involved in a different heritage's student association is a simple way for students to broaden their cultural horizons. For the BSA, it was the beginning of a series of changes to improve the club.
"I have been a part of BSA since my freshman year and this semester I see so many changes. There are more events," said Rauwolfia Mannan, a sophomore biology major. "We have a Pakistani president, but I don't think it matters because she is doing her job right and everybody is working hard."
Famous for their henna (a red-brown floral design that is tattooed onto the skin using natural plant paste), the members hope to raise awareness of aspects of their culture, like their traditional foods like dal bhat and pheerni, which is a variety of rice pudding.
"Not a lot of people here know where Bangladesh is," said Irteza Hossain, a junior business administration major and the treasurer of BSA who wanted to bring his culture to college. "BSA is a great way for them to learn about our culture and what it's like."
The members of BSA work hard to maintain their cultural individuality as students at UB. Society in America is vastly different from the traditional values and customs of Bangladesh, and finding common ground can be challenging.
Some BSA members struggle to find acceptance and live in fear of being rejected by their peers. But by embracing their culture rather than insults being thrown at them, the members receive many questions, according to Choudhury.
"Your culture did not come of itself," Choudhury said. "Cultures have been borrowed. The number system, where do you think it came from? A lot of the foods we use, where do the spices come from? The shoes they have, the jewelry they have, and the cars they have. So, honestly in this society you cannot be ignorant of other cultures, especially at UB, where you have such diverse cultures."
BSA is collaborating with Muslim SA, Pakistani SA, the Organization of Arab Students and Indian SA for future events to promote diversity and continuous education of other cultures. The BSA will also be working in collaboration with the environmental club to promote awareness about the hardships and flooding that are going on in Bangledish, which are affecting the people and economy.
BSA wants to be known for aspects of Bangladeshi culture, like Pohela Boishakh– the Bangladeshi New Year.BSA is planning on celebrating theNew Yearby having henna artists, lots of traditional food, and various popular Bangladeshi games such as ludo (a board game), and carrom (finger billiards).
By hosting these events, Gazi hopes that the students at UB will learn about the Bangladeshi people and show interest in learning about other unique cultures. To her, it's important to gain an understanding of the background of her peers.
"Every place has their unique vibe," Gazi said. "When I go back to Pakistan, it has its own vibe. If I go to Bangladesh, it would also have its own unique vibe. So I want people to know that and be aware of that."
Gazi, Choudhury, and the rest of the new BSA will continue praying and hosting events to promote diversity and Bangladeshi recognition until word is fully spread.