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Puravi Nath elected ISO president; Aarzoo Bhimani and Vidush Goswami win VP and Secretary positions

International Student Organization President-Elect Puravi Nath wants to make the organization “as inclusive as possible.” Photo by Ariel Richards.

The Grinnell College International Student Organization (ISO) cabinet for the 2020- 21 academic year will consist of President Puravi Nath ’21, Vice President Aarzoo Bhimani ’21, Secretary Vidush Goswami ’21, Treasurer Sarah Wig ’23, Social Coordinators Derin Sivrioğlu ’23 and Nini Pataridze ’22 and Publicity Coordinators Gyana Singh ’23 and Tinotenda Tazvitya ’23, as announced to international students by email this past Sunday.Each cabinet member occupies a different role to help ensure that ISO works as smoothly as possible to represent international students and their countries within the Grinnell community. Nath explained that in her new role as president, her job is to ensure that every student’s voice is heard both in the cabinet and from the general membership.

“I want to make [ISO] as inclusive as possible,” Nath said.

In an interview with The S&B, she outlined plans to address issues surrounding the funding of smaller cultural groups by Multicultural Leadership Council. Currently, Nath said, MLC tends to fund larger cultural groups like ISO. She said that this exclusion of smaller groups is not intentional but rather structural: there are both a limited number of MLC suites available and limited funds available. She wants to use ISO to elevate these smaller groups “We want to … make funding easier for them, and basically help their plans come true,” explained Nath.

Secretary-elect Goswami is also looking forward to implementing support for smaller international groups through ISO. He outlined his main goal to create a separate budget for ISO within the Student Government Associate budget.

As Goswami explained, “Having a different budget for ISO will make it easier for smaller groups that aren’t part of the MLC. Japanese Culture Association isn’t a part of MLC … it’s hard for them to get funding from SGA because they’re a small organization. But they’re still a significant culture and we need more diversity on this campus.”

Vice President-elect Bhimani also highlighted the importance of supporting “rare bird” cultures. “Rare birds” are students whose nationality is shared by approximately fewer than four students on campus. “I want to do more for the rare bird cultures next year. There tends to be a sentiment that ISO is dominated by the larger cultures on campus,” explained Bhimani. “I think people often make that assumption based on the makeup of the cabinet, because we do tend to have an Asian or South-Asian dominance in terms of cabinet members. And I don’t want the members of the organization to feel like ISO is exclusive to larger represented groups,” she said.

Over the past few years, the cabinet has been primarily made up of students from India and southeast Asia. Calvin Tang ’20, current Vice President of ISO, said that this regional dominance is due to general campus demographics. “The past three years of ISO, counting the upcoming one, leadership has all been South-Asian or primarily Indian. I do think [this is due to] the fact that they are the second largest population by numbers of international students, and it’s right behind Chinese students,” he said.

Data analysis by Vidush Goswami.

Tang said that Chinese students may feel more inclined to be part of the Chinese Student Association than join ISO. “It’s much easier for them to get involved within their community, which is a great thing,” he said. He asserted that the current ISO and future leadership are united in their desire to bridge the gaps between ISO and narrower affinity groups both in representation in ISO and through advocacy for the diversity of multicultural groups in general.

“I do really hope in the future that students from other countries that are lesser represented will feel more empowered or feel more motivation to run,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to get figured out within a couple years,” said Tang, of advocating for smaller cultural groups. “I think it’s going to be a long-term thing that we always have to keep working at. The goal is to not necessarily absorb these smaller cultural organizations, but at least allow them to use us as a platform to get out to a larger audience.”

This year, the current cabinet introduced ISO Week. This weeklong event highlighted smaller groups that were not within the MLC umbrella to give them more exposure to the campus community. The new cabinet plans to continue these efforts to encourage solidarity throughout all international student groups, not just ISO.

“All of ISO works together. It doesn’t really matter what position you are, you have certain responsibilities. [But] you make decisions all together; there’s nothing that’s an executive decision, everything is a cabinet decision,” said Nath.

Vice President-elect Bhimani said that the cabinet changes functionally as well as personally ever year. “Each cabinet every year doesn’t do it the same way, we kind of set the ground for how we want the semester to go and we let people chip in ideas for how they want their roles to be.”

For her part, Bhimani said that she plans to start ISO office hours so that the cabinet is more accessible to both general members and nonmembers. Nath said that she wants to increase awareness and accessibility of internship paths for international students. She has been working with the Dean of the Careers, Life and Services to create software to better advertise these opportunities and promote CLS resources.

Nath said that her main focus in this effort will be reducing the cost of curricular practical training (CPT). International students are required to complete CPT before their internships and this training can be expensive, thus serving as a barrier that many students cannot overcome. Nath said she hopes to find ways to reduce this cost while making the process more need-based and need-aware.

Nath said that she has wanted to be president of ISO in order to give back to students what ISO has given to her since her first year at Grinnell. “When you come to a place like this, it’s so easy to feel like you don’t belong. It’s one of the most beautiful things if you can make people feel like they are a part. I think that’s so important,” she said. “I want to make this as easy as possible. I kind of struggled, and I don’t want anyone else to struggle.”

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