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‘Racism and Chai’ dialogue invites students to reflect on recent white nationalist events

Indian Student Association event brings together more than than 30 students of different backgrounds to dialogue on racism and events in Charlottesville

The Indian Student Association hosted a “Racism and Chai” event at Clark Hall Tuesday, inviting students to discuss the recent white nationalist events Charlottesville. 

The aim: solidarity with words and a cup of chai. The chai dialogues were initiated by Andrew Mathew and Krunal Patel, both fourth-year College students. Discussions aim to engage the South Asian community with a series of issues surrounding the University and the greater Charlottesville area.

“I was wondering how we can start dialogue and foster friendships deeper,” Mathew said. “And so, Krunal and I went to a Sustained Dialogue event and wondered how we can do it for South Asian students.” 

They started dialogues at the beginning of last year.

With warm chai tea in hand, more than 30 students of different backgrounds came together to dialogue on racism and terrorism in Charlottesville. Mathew was one of three dialogue moderators and described the Charlottesville events as revealing.

“There’s this kid who usually sees something that his friends or family don’t see,” Mathew said. “And the invisible thing shows up when the family isn’t around. You know how it goes, like the sixth sense. He sees it, but no one else does.”

Furthering his analogy, he recalled an appearance of this invisible thing when a professor in class asked him to speak on Hinduism, though he is Christian. 

“They were associating me with these stereotypes,” Mathew said. “To me, I felt I was the only one that was seeing it. Because it wasn’t physical abuse, it was somehow inherently not racism.”

Coming to the University, he said minority students helped him affirm his experience. 

“After the events in Charlottesville, it wasn’t just the minority students agreeing with me, it was the white students,” Mathew said. “They felt unsafe and unwelcome and the hatred as well. They were on the same page as me and saw the imaginary friend I’ve been seeing my whole life.”

Bryce Arguello, a fourth-year College student, said she was impacted being both a first-generation and Mexican-American student.

“I am a first-generation student and my family will be coming to Charlottesville for graduation — it will be their first time seeing Grounds and everything,” Arguello said. “And we were watching the rally on TV and they asked if it will it be safe for us to come ... This happening in my community makes me wary of bringing my family into this environment.”

The chai dialogue was a space for students to share their suffering and create a platform for further action.

Sharvani Mehta, a third-year in the School of Commerce and the ISA’s Cultural Chair,

expressed happiness about the dialogue’s outcome and the diverse student population it attracted.

“You can’t create change unless you stand united with people who think differently from you,” Mehta said. 

She also said it’s important to stay informed despite the overwhelming calls to attend life’s career decisions, academics and social obligations. 

“We don’t give ourselves time to think about issues affecting our society,” Mehta said. “You just kind of want to brush it off. But to read the articles about DACA, to read about issues is the step in the right direction. If you’re knowledgeable it’s a step in the right direction— you know it, you can talk about it, you’re personally invested.”