A spotlight on multicultural student organizations


Students express the importance of culture and inclusivity in Iowa State multicultural student organizations.

Nitanga Safi

According to the Student Activities Center at Iowa State, there are over 900 student organizations, all made to cater to different groups of people on campus and their interests. 

The Iowa State Student Activities Center lists 90 multicultural clubs with groups of people from all around the world.

The Indian Student Association is no different, according to Priyanka Kadaganchi, the club’s president and a senior in computer engineering. Kadaganchi said the Association aims to bring Indian culture to Iowa State. 

The club is made up of around 300 active members mainly consisting of Indian students. Kadaganchi said this is not unusual because the club tends to celebrate festivals that are famous year-round in every Indian household. These events are a good opportunity for students to meet other Indians, eat Indian food and also wear traditional clothing.

The biggest event the Indian Student Association holds is Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. 

Kadaganchi said that in India, Diwali is celebrated with fireworks, lights and lamps, amazing food and puja. 

So, for the Diwali event at Iowa State, Kadaganchi said the club puts together a cultural show and an Indian dinner. The club tends to get around 700-800 guests. 

Kadaganchi said the club also holds events for Holi, Festival of Colors and Dandiya, where Navratri is celebrated and people are taught a dance called Garba. 

“Apart from celebrating Indian festivals, we also bring Indian classical art and pop culture to campus,” Kadaganchi said. 

Kadaganchi said the club doesn’t only hold events and festivals, they also provide a space for Indian students to be themselves and live through moments they once experienced with their families. 

Kadaganchi said the Association also provides a social and cultural platform for Indian students and it’s also a place for socialization with fellow Indians. The Association also provides a safe network for new students from India through helping them navigate a new country. 

Kadaganchi said this club is especially important at a predominantly white institution because it enables new ways of thinking, new knowledge and different experiences. 

Kadaganchi added that when there is talk about diversity it is mainly focused on Black and Latinx communities. However, Kadaganchi said there are many questions and stereotypes about Indian culture and due to the Indian population being a small minority in the U.S., people do not get a chance to learn about the culture. 

“We try to provide a safe place to not only ask questions but also immerse in Indian culture,” Kadaganchi said. 

Oluwatobiloba Fagbule, the interim president of the African Student Association and a senior in architecture, said they also provide a space for students to be themselves and share all their lived experiences. Fagbule said the club is an important part of the university because of the community it provides. 

“There are 54 African countries in the continent, but we all come together, appreciating each other’s cultures and celebrating the differences but [also] how similar we are,” Fagbule said. 

Fagbule said the club consists of 50-100 members and although their members are mainly African students, they are open to all members of the Iowa State community. 

Fagbule said their club activities change each semester but many of them are centered around discussions about things going on in African countries. Other activities include game nights, karaoke nights, movie nights and soccer tournaments. 

Fagbule explained that the major event the club has is their annual event, African Night. During this event there are different African countries’ cultures showcased through food, dance, drama skits, singing and other categories. This event tends to draw about 400-600 guests.

“We aim to learn about other people’s cultures, and we are always ready to learn and share about our different cultures,” Fagbule said. 

Abigail Boongaling, president of Filipino Student Association and a senior in chemical engineering, said the club consists mainly of Filipino students, but they are inclusive and have other students with several ethnic backgrounds. 

“We accept people from all backgrounds, we do not tolerate any disrespectful behavior, and all club issues are addressed to ensure club improvement,” Boongaling said. 

Boongaling said the club holds bubble tea fundraisers (where the money goes toward the donations to the Philippines’ natural disasters), cultural food/social events, general meetings (learning Filipino language/playing Filipino games), executive board meetings and club collaborations among other events. 

Boongaling added that before the pandemic, the biggest event the club had was traveling to Midwest Filipino conferences and events held by other colleges such as the Battle of the Bamboo at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

However, Boongaling said now they have virtual events that include game nights, movie nights, trivia nights and Filipino education discussions.

Boongaling said a club such as the Filipino Student Association is important at a predominantly white institution because they bring a community for people that have an interest in Filipino culture. They also aim to provide resources to deal with homesickness or discrimination on campus.

“Students should feel comfortable and safe to interact about their own cultural differences in a predominantly white institution,” Boongaling said.