New UNC student organization elevates Tamil culture and language at UNC
The word – which is a greeting in Tamil – is the beginning of the description of UNC’s first Tamil student organization.
The new group aims to spread knowledge and increase awareness about the Tamil people, their culture and history, according to its description.
Nasiha Rizwan, president of the organization, said she started it after finding a group of students that matched her identity.
“The great part about UNC is that it’s so diverse,” Rizwan said. “But that means you also want to have people who specifically understand your experiences.”
She said the main aim of the Tamil student organization is to have an accessible space for students.
“A freshman told us that she felt like she didn’t miss home so much because of the club, because it felt like home,” Rizwan said. “So it’s kind of like what we wanted to create for students.”
Economics professor Geetha Vaidyanathan, the club’s educational advisor, said Tamil is one of the major languages in India, but is also spoken in Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
At UNC, in previous years, Tamil was also offered as part of language courses.
“But over time, due to low enrollment and budget cuts, language courses stopped being offered,” Vaidyanathan said. “And that was at a time, you know, 10 or 12 years ago, when the Tamil milieu, the student population was very, very, very small compared to what it is now.”
Rohan Rajesh, vice president of the club, said that in addition to the demographic shift that has taken place in North Carolina, students may have more interest in Tamil culture today than in the past.
“I think there are a lot of valuable things to learn about different cultures,” he said. “And the Tamil culture is a very old surviving culture.”
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, students came together to connect through GroupMe, and then eventually in Zoom meetings. Students of Tamil origin mainly attended the meetings, but the conversations were open to all.
The group started very small but eventually grew to around 60 people.
“So we thought, why not make this official?” Rizwan said. “And that way we can get funding for events and have more resources at our disposal.”
Vaidyanathan said organizations like TSO provide a community that students might have received at home but struggle to find in a large institution.
“And I think that’s where this type of organization plays a very useful role in keeping them in touch with their culture, their language, their traditions,” Vaidyanathan said.
She added that the club is also important for students outside the Tamil culture.
“What I also discovered was that there were members who did not come from a Tamil background, but were members just because they were interested in Tamil culture,” Vaidyanathan said. .
Last month, the organization held its first general meeting. Students enjoyed South Asian snacks while playing a Tamil themed Jeopardy game.
Rizwan said the event was well attended.
“It’s like a specific ethnic group, because we wanted those students to feel represented, but that’s for everyone,” she said.
TSO plans to expand its club and cultural activities in the next semester with more funding and the integration of students from the class of 2026.
Rizwan said the club is also planning to hold other events to make a statement to the University on the importance of Tamil culture. This includes forming a team to bring Tamil back into the UNC language program.
“At the end of the day, we want to organize charity events and so on,” Rizwan said. “So we’re starting small, but we certainly have big goals.”
On Friday, the club plans to host a cricket tournament with the Asian American Student Association at Hooker Fields.
Students interested in joining and learning more about TSO can do so on its Heel Life Page.
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