Niagara University hosted its inaugural Cultural Gala on Dec. 7, 2023, on the fourth floor of Glynn Hall. The event, a collaborative effort of the Vincentian Center for Justice, the Intercultural Engagement Center, the Asian Student Union, the Student Government Association, and International Relations, was an opportunity for the university community to recognize and celebrate the different cultures represented on campus.
“I realized that NU is a very diverse campus with over 50 cultures represented, and deemed it important to come together to appreciate and celebrate these cultures through an event like the Cultural Gala,” said Vanessa Abudei, a graduate student in the clinical mental health counseling program, who was one of the organizers. “This event is exigent, as it unifies the community and promotes diversity.”
Ena Das, a sophomore studying criminology and criminal justice; Narges Kazemi, a junior majoring in computer science; Vot'e Wavote, a graduate student studying secondary education; and Lauren Tupaj, a senior luxury hospitality operations major, were also involved in organizing the event.
The gala showcased cultural performances by students, including dances, poetry, and songs; a fashion show featuring the traditional outfits of Nigeria, Afghanistan, the Tuscarora Nation, Singapore, Somalia, and India; and foods representing cultures from Indian, Greek, Ghanaian, Afghan, Hispanic, and African backgrounds. Sarah Hykel from Salsa in the Park and Slyboots African drummers also performed during the event.
Tupaj, who is president of the Asian Student Union, also shared a community project her organization participated in that involved teaching Indonesian choreography set to a popular Bahasa-English song.
“We connected with our community by sharing this culture and learning it ourselves, fostering diversity and inclusion as a club with our campus,” Tupaj said. “That was a very fun and interactive community project, and it brought great joy and laughter to the room.”
She also noted that in addition to engaging the nearly 50 students, staff, and faculty in attendance, the gala also was an opportunity for the university’s socio-cultural clubs to network and collaborate.
”It is a wonderful way to work together to showcase cultures and engage more in an intimate setting,” she said. “We need to see that POC diversity and everyone's cultures are showcased and belong at NU, and this is the perfect example of how that can be accomplished on campus.”
Wavote, who is a graduate assistant in the Intercultural Engagement Center, is often involved in planning events that celebrate diversity and foster cross-cultural understanding.
“Bringing students together and allowing them to learn about different cultural traditions, perspectives, and beliefs is essential for building a welcoming campus where everyone feels they belong,” Wavote said, noting that he appreciated seeing students from many different backgrounds come together to share parts of their culture and learn from one another. “The energy and excitement around celebrating our diversity was incredible. I think events like these go a long way toward making our campus more unified.”
Das, NUSGA events coordinator, has also helped to bring Diwali celebrations to campus and is planning to host Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, next semester.
“If we do not host events, the students would never get educated about the diversity,” Das said. She hopes the gala becomes an annual tradition because it brought “joy and happiness to so many people!”
Kazemi, who works in the Vincentian Center for Justice, said that the opportunity to highlight and celebrate the campus diversity “fosters a sense of inclusivity, understanding, and appreciation for the rich tapestry of cultures within the university community.”
“It was amazing to see the talents and traditions of our diverse student body come to life,” she said. “The positive energy and sense of unity created during the event were truly memorable.”
“The Cultural Gala was a true representation of the different cultures on our campus,” said Erin Plantone, assistant director, education abroad & exchanges. “It gave our students an opportunity to showcase their talents, passions, and culture in a supportive and inclusive environment. I can't wait to see how we can make the event even bigger and better for next year.”