A look into Baylor’s Growing South Asian Greek Life and Social Organizations
By Sejal Bhandari
As mentioned in my very first article, the South Asian community at Baylor University is distinctively small. However, this size doesn’t imply its lack of strength. In fact, this community embodies a group of diverse individuals determined to highlight their organizations’ potential and growth. Without their work ethic and commitment to building an even stronger network and support system for their fellow and incoming South Asian classmates, none of their organizations would successfully exist. In this article, I intend to introduce Baylor’s South Asian Greek Life and social organizations along with their diversity and commitment to representation.
The largest organization at Baylor is the Indian Subcontinent Student Association, better known as ISSA. One of the most admirable traits about this club is its religious diversity. It has a range of individuals coming from Hindu, Muslim, Ismaili, and Christian backgrounds. This diversity is what brings a sense of unity and connection for all individuals. It supports and accepts anyone in the community regardless of their background. Additionally, their event and social media pages support the holidays associated with every religion, ranging from Diwali, Eid, Christmas, Holi, and so many more. With this inclusive quality, ISSA serves as the supportive base for the brown community at Baylor and takes charge of social, informative, and interactive events for its South Asian students. Connected to this larger organization are a few smaller organizations such as Depsi and KphiG which have begun to grow with the additional support of ISSA.
Depsi and KphiG represent the fraternity and sorority associated with Baylor’s South asian community. Both of these organizations recently experienced their revival years (thanks to Baylor’s current South asian students) and are continuing to transform and grow into a stronger base to support all South asians coming into Baylor and its small community.
Depsi, for example, grew from a fraternity of four members to fourteen on campus in the span of less than two years. However, this growth isn’t only defined numerically. With the help of the current President and Vice President, Arish Merchant and Sameer Ursani as well as other dedicated members, this organization has made a significant name for itself. Although they both believe that the fraternity hasn’t reached its true goal
yet, they know it’s destined for its full potential. Each brother has experienced their own journey with Depsi and helped form a true family with one another. Arish, for example, started his freshman year off wanting to join a fraternity, however, due to Baylor’s strong Christian roots and less diverse population, it was hard for him to find one where he felt welcomed. Experiencing racism among other aspects, he felt he couldn’t rush a fraternity where he knew he had “to be fake” with his brothers. Looking for other options, he found the reviving line of the four-member Depsi fraternity.
After rushing, he at first thought it was a joke. The fraternity resembled a mess inside out; there were fines left and right, no organizations or fundraising support, no forms, no…nothing. Nonetheless, Arish saw potential within it, and made it his mission to leave it better than what it was before and to build this fraternity from the ground up. During his sophomore year, he and his brothers crossed another line, helping to bring in Sameer, a transferred sophomore. Although reluctant to join at first, Sameer realized that Depsi wasn’t just any fraternity, it was a true brotherhood different from the others. With only a semester after crossing, Sameer was elected as Vice President along with Arish as President. Within that semester and through collective dedication among the brothers, Depsi began throwing their first events and people finally began to know their name. This past summer, Arish and Sameer worked together, just as much as they would’ve worked for school to revise their entire constitution, get in touch with the National Council, learn how to do profit shares, and set a tone to make this year different from the years before. Although the fraternity is “nowhere near to what [they] want it to be”, it has admirably come a long way since being revived just a little over a year ago. The devotion that all its
members put in to making the fraternity what it is today is extraordinary and commendable. Their commitment to making not only a fraternity but a family for South Asian men and others who feel disconnected at Baylor, exemplifies the characteristics embedded within Baylor’s current South Asian community. As president, Arish hopes to “build something [he] can come back to and it’s still standing…[he] wants it to be there for future students and wants [his] brothers to continue to expand it.”
Being South Asian in a predominantly white christian population, it’s difficult to make friends and find a community at Baylor. Arish believes that “being brown” is unfortunately a “disadvantage in today’s time” and at Baylor, but Depsi is determined to “take this disadvantage and make it an asset” where South Asians can truly be themselves and not otherwise. And that is “what Depsi is there for and to show that they are a sense of community with a sense of tradition and similarities.” He explained that this fraternity isn’t “number chasing” and he doesn’t believe that the size determines its success. Depsi is focused on taking the best amount of guys to do best quality work to build a name with meaning rather than magnitude. As far as the brown culture goes, this fraternity isn’t solely focused on the stereotypes that are associated with being brown. Instead, their goal is to take the current culture and spread it to others not only through food, art, and stereotypical characteristics, but through South Asian principles such as respect, family, support, and culture sharing. Depsi not only promotes, but believes that these are the true values of what being a South Asian represents and what the community stands for rather than just chicken tikka masala and Bollywood.
One of the most recent revival stories occurred last fall was with KPhiG. The current President, Amira Nayyer, and Vice President, Mehak Punjwani, along with two other members, helped bring back the South Asian interest sorority. Reviving only less than a year ago, this sorority already reflects a group destined for incredible growth and increasing
unity. Not only do each of these leaders serve as the root for re-building this sorority, but they also represent many Baylor South Asian students who struggle to find a place where they feel culturally accepted.
With such strong Christian support within Baylor’s panhellenic greek life, it’s difficult for a South Asian to develop a personal connection within those organizations. After going through the panhellenic rushing process herself, Amira developed a sense of dissociation from these particular greek groups. Coming out of state, from California, she experienced a major “culture shock [at Baylor] with barely any representation.” In fact, she explained that her only “sense of home” stemmed mainly from the ISSA community. These people were the ones “that understood her background” and they gave her a place “where she could be herself.” So after much consideration, Amira chose to end her journey with panhellenic and decided to take on the role of reviving KphiG.
After the revival, Amira felt like she “found something fresh and small” that she could help turn into something large and significant. Even though KphiG consists of a small group of individuals, Amira clarified this is what makes the sorority “more personal…and tight knit.” She believes that “even if we are underrepresented,” being able to make a “change within [our] community,” representing our culture, and standing for brown women in general, is far greater than any number defining their size.
Similarly, Mehak, like many other brown students coming in, also felt like she couldn’t fit in to any of the other sororities at Baylor. However, when she was approached with the opportunity to help revive KphiG, she ran with it “thinking about other girls that may feel the same way…to fit in and make a difference for someone else.” This statement embodies the identity of Baylor’s South Asian community as its students not only search for a home for themselves but work to build one for others in order to prevent that common dissociated feeling from reoccurring.
Within the past year, KphiG has doubled in size and is welcoming “members of all backgrounds and ethnicities.” Additionally, they have begun to participate in campus events, fundraisers, and even hosting their own events. One unique aspect that sets KPhiG apart from other sororities is its determination to break the South Asian cultural norms. Most brown cultures and societies see college as something solely for education, getting good grades, and receiving a degree. However, as Mehak explained, “while education is still of utmost priority to KphiG, it breaks the [society’s] norm by encouraging social events, interactions, and serving the community…[allowing] members of KphiG…to defy the typical South Asian student norm.” Therefore, KphiG, just like the other brown organizations at Baylor, focuses on building a social community, a networking and support system, and a family where no one is left feeling separated from their society and culture.
Nonetheless, the three themes that characterize all these organizations are unity, growth, and support. Regardless of what each individual stands for or pursues, these associations will continue to strengthen, grow, and be a foundation for any South Asian student at Baylor University. Even though these organizations are relatively small, their values, dedication to support, and growing nature define their significant qualitative characteristics that make them larger than their size. Hopefully the introduction to these organizations will help highlight and bring more understanding to future spotlight articles that promote and support the Baylor South asian students and community.
Credits and Special Thanks to:
Arish Merchant (Depsi President, Junior, Baylor 2022)
Sameer Ursani (Depsi Vice President, Junior, Baylor 2022)
Amira Nayyar (KphiG President, Junior, Baylor 2022)
Mehak Punjwani (KphiG Vice President, Junior, Baylor 2022)