In the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody, people throughout the United States and the world have rallied to protest police brutality. In addition to protesting, this recent attention to the systemic racism in the US has inspired people to swarm social media, sign petitions, reach out to their local officials, and donate to Black organizations. Divya Ramamurthy (W ’22), Simran Chand (C ’21), and Mahima Sangli (W, C ’23) wanted Penn Masti, the university's South Asian coed fusion dance team, to take part in the action.
The group of women—Captain of Masti, former Social Chair of Masti, and Marketing Chair for Masti, respectively—contacted their team and alumni asking if people were interested in collecting a sizable contribution for an organization dedicated to assisting the movement.
“I was really overwhelmed in a good way by what was happening on social media, but a lot of what was happening on social media felt very performative to me,” Simran said.
“I wanted to do something more tangible, something that felt like I was actually helping the Black community in a sustained way. Masti is like a family to us, and so what better way to come together and organize [than] with your family and friends.”
Upon receiving positive responses to their email, they organized a successful social media campaign, raising six to seven thousand dollars in around an hour, Ramamurthy said.
“We could not have done this without everyone on our team reaching out, Instagram [direct messaging] people, Venmo requesting people, copying and pasting our message and spamming every single group chat,” Chand said. “It was really a collective effort.”
Ultimately, Masti raised $12.5 thousand dollars and their alumni and their employers matched that for a donation of 43.5 thousand dollars to Black Lives Matter.
“That was just something that we did not see coming and we were so excited and impressed that our team was able to amass that much money to donate,” Chand said.
They then teamed up with the larger South Asian Society community at Penn, aiming to raise 15 thousand dollars in donations to be matched by their alumni and their employers for a total of 30 thousand dollars to the NAACP.
“I'm hoping that this entire initiative is just helping other people think about how they also want to contribute to the community and how they want to bring together their friends and their family and everyone to this movement,” Ramamurthy said.
Chand said since South Asian American allyship can be very complicated, she hopes Masti inspires conversations within the larger South Asian American community at Penn. Factors, including the model minority myth and the status of being a person of color but not necessarily a disenfranchised or underrepresented minority, make Asian allyship complex and confusing, she said.
“I think many of our members on Masti and within the larger South Asian American community are really aware of these things, but it's not something that is very often talked about, very openly talked about, or at the forefront of many of our activisms,” Chand said. “Ultimately, the lasting goal is that not only all of Masti but all of the South Asian American community at Penn takes efforts to be anti-racist moving forward in the rest of their individual lives.”
Simply through organizing the fundraising, Sangli said she and the team have engaged more with the movement.
“We’ve gone and researched more, gone and seen what kind of petitions we can find, gone and seen how we can use our vote to further this movement,” she said.
For Masti, these additional activist and educational efforts coincide with their donations so that they can help achieve ongoing change, Chand said.
“Right now, this is a monetary contribution we have realized that we have the power to make, but overall, we want to have a more sustained impact nationally and within the Penn community,” Chand said. “We want to start holding ourselves accountable, educating ourselves, educating our peers, educating our families, calling out anti-blackness in the South Asian American community [and] larger Penn community, and make this a paradigm shift against the racial injustice that our country has faced for just far too long.”
Masti has since then been able to reach their donation goal to the NAACP and has teamed up with fellow university dance team Arts House Dance Company in hopes to raise 13 thousand dollars for the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization dedicated to combatting mass incarceration in the criminal justice system. One can Venmo @Penn_Masti with the note "EJI Donation" to help contribute.