Duquesne celebrates Diwali Festival of Lights

Brentaro Yamane | Multimedia Editor | East Liberty’s Choolaah, a restaurant that combines traditional Indian flavors with fast service, catered the event.

Emily Ambery | Layout Editor

Students gathered in the Towers multipurpose room on Tuesday evening to celebrate Diwali, an Indian Festival of Lights commemorating the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and the human ability to overcome.

Decorated with orange, purple and gold, the room was only lit by electric candles and table lights. As they ate Indian cuisine from East Liberty’s Choolaah, students learned about Diwali’s traditions and history from the liberal arts college’s Orbis learning community, which studies other cultures, traditions and literature in the context of cultural communication.

The event was part of a larger semester-long project from the 20-student Orbis cohort. Members of the cohort held events from different cultures. Previously, they held a Dia de los Muertos celebration and an Italian-American heritage dinner. The semester projects will conclude with a Thanksgiving dinner with members of the Consortium for Christian-Muslim Dialogue.

The Center for Global Engagement and Office of Residence Life helped students in Orbis plan and execute their events. Diwali is marked by the traditional artform Rangoli, prayers and worship as well as colorful oil lamps called diyas.

Celebrations of Diwali date back to 56 B.C., and each religious practice in India memorializes a different historical triumph.

Four students presented group projects on different aspects of Diwali, including Victoria Heinz, a freshman in the Orbis learning community.

“My presentation was on the five days of Diwali, which focused on how each day is celebrated differently. This was my first time experiencing and understanding the Diwali celebration,” Heinz said. “It was very interesting to learn about the different foods and how each day is a different celebration but brings everyone together.”

Traditional Diwali foods include sweets like ladoos, jalebi, barfi and gujiya and savory snacks like samosas and pakoras. Students ate samosas, paneer, chicken tikka masala, chana masala and naan bread.

Another Orbis presenter, Gabby Gregorini, spoke about the cultural aspects of Diwali. She said it was her first time celebrating the Indian holiday.

“I have always been a fan of Indian food but this was my first time diving into a cultural aspect of India other than the cuisine,” Gregorini said. “The experience of learning about the event was really neat for me because I’ve always been heavily interested in learning about different cultural events and opening my mind to what makes each and every culture so unique.”

Attendee Hetanshi Shah ate rice, naan and paneer with her friends. She noted her surprise that Duquesne was holding a Diwali event.

“I like that [Duquesne] actually did something for Diwali,” Shah said. “I wasn’t expecting it, especially from a Spiritan university.”

Organizer Codi Bobb, from the Office of Residence Life, helped plan the event and noted the importance of cultural diversity.

“It is important for the Duquesne community to reflect on the importance of other cultures,” Bobb said. “Also, it is an honor to show great respect to other cultures’ triumphs.”

Other attendees included students from communication and rhetoric professor Erik Garrett’s classes. Both his Urban Communication and Intercultural Communication classes were in attendance.

Garrett emphasized Duquesne’s international student body.

“We have a very international campus and it’s important to recognize, honor and celebrate that diversity,” Garrett said. “Having Diwali tonight is all about that.”

As a result of their research into Diwali, many of the presenters hoped that more culturally diverse events will promote inclusivity on campus.

“I believe it is important to celebrate different cultural holidays at Duquesne because it gives everyone an understanding of the many cultures and traditions that are shared amongst each other,” Heinz said.

Gregorini echoed the impact of hosting events like Diwali on both international and domestic students at Duquesne.

“With Duquesne having a decent sized international student population it is important we recognize other cultural traditions to make it a more inclusive and accepting environment for those students.”