The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.


Despite his non-Indian heritage, Wharton and Engineering senior Brendan McManus joined Penn's Indian a capella group, Penn Masala, in the spring of his sophomore year. | Courtesy of Ballari Productions

College junior Tunmise Fawole never thought she would join a sorority — let alone Penn’s Asian-interest sorority alpha Kappa Delta Phi.

However, after an acquaintance encouraged her to attend a rush event, Fawole, who is Nigerian, decided to give it a try.

“I remembered thinking during the process, ‘This is really outside of my comfort zone,’” she said. “I went to rush and ended up really liking it, and it kind of snowballed from there.”

After joining, Fawole took on more and more leadership roles, and now serves as the sorority’s external vice president, representing her sorority to the other culturally-affiliated Greek organizations.

Although joining a cultural club is a way for students to find a home at Penn and stay close to their roots, for some, like Fawole, it’s a way to learn about an entirely different culture and immerse themselves in a new group of people.

Wharton senior Ryan Hull joined the Penn Japan Student Association as a sophomore after deciding he wanted to join a cultural group, though he is not Japanese. The organization stood out to him because he took Japanese class at Penn and had always heard about Japanese culture from his mother, who lived in Japan for a few years.

“It’s really opened my eyes to Japanese culture, and also how other East Asian cultures work,” Hull said, adding that his experience in the club ultimately motivated him to study abroad in Japan for a semester.

Similarly, Wharton and Engineering senior Brendan McManus decided to try out for Penn’s Indian a cappella group, Penn Masala, during the spring of his sophomore year at the suggestion of some of his Indian friends.

“I’ve definitely learned an enormous amount about South Asian culture — there’s no way you can’t,” McManus said, adding that he’s learned some Hindi because they often sing pieces in the language. “I didn’t grow up surrounded by other cultures, and I didn’t know I would enjoy being immersed in another culture until I actually gave it a shot.”

Fawole, who is involved in black cultural groups like UMOJA and who is interested in issues of social justice, said that she brings a different perspective to conversations about race in her sorority. Likewise, hearing those conversations allows her to broaden her own understanding of social justice issues.

Hull described his first time representing JSA at a meeting for the Asian Pacific Coalition, the umbrella group for Asian student organizations on campus, as “a little intimidating” because he stood out as the only non-Asian in a room full of people. However, he said the rest of the members quickly accepted him and didn’t respect his ideas any less, saying “it makes me feel validated knowing that my opinion is counted.”

For McManus, sticking out has been a challenge in another way — because he’s not Indian, he wasn’t allowed to go on India’s Got Talent or perform in Pitch Perfect II with the other members of Masala.

Though it was valuable to learn about a new culture, the friends they made were the most important part of their experience, the students said.

“I consider JSA one of my closest families here at Penn,” Hull said. “It’s definitely one of the best experiences I’ve made coming here.

Fawole said that her membership in aKDPhi allowed her to meet a whole group of women she otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know, adding that the sorority’s small pledge classes make it easy to get to know each person on an individual level. She said joining the sorority was the “best decision she’s made” here at Penn.

The three students said that they would encourage others to get out of their comfort zones and join new cultural groups, regardless of background.

“People will actually accept you if you’re not of their culture as long as you accept their culture,” McManus said. He said his fellow Masala singers are his best friends on campus, adding, “I don’t see myself as any different.”

“If you’re interested in something, don’t allow something like your background to prevent you from pursuing it,” Hull said.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly referred to the Penn Japan Student Association as the Japanese Student Association. The DP regrets the error.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.