By Job Anthony R. Manahan
Manila, June 13, 2019: Having a diverse cultural background was an Indian-Filipino student-leader’s asset in dealing with stereotypes and challenging cultural barriers in the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Manila, The Philippines.
In a viral Facebook post of his graduation photo where he is dressed in a traditional barong and a photoshopped Nehru jacket from India, Vashwin Amarnani said his diverse upbringing allowed him to respect and understand the perspective of others.
Indian by blood and Filipino by citizenship, Amarnani said his background allowed people to be more open to him in terms of discussing sensitive issues such as religion and race, among others.
“I have learned the importance of respect: respect of all cultures, of all religions, of all people, of yourself. Even if most of the time jokes or questions sound sarcastic (and slightly racist), I have come to admire people who have a genuine interest and respect for the beliefs of others,” the post read.
The 21-year-old psychology graduate who practices Hinduism said he “never felt discriminated” because of his religion in his stay in UST – the oldest Catholic university in Asia and managed by Dominicans or the Orders of Preachers.
“I actually genuinely enjoy when people are willing to talk about other faiths with me. I think that having open and respectful communication about sensitive topics is important in today’s society,” he told the Varsitarian (UST student publication) in an online interview.
“I [believe] that there is no harm in reading the Bible or the Qur’an. The way I see it, there is wisdom in every religion and none of them will teach you anything wrong,” he added.
Amarnani said the International Students Association (ISA), the university’s sociocultural organization that promotes amity among and unity of diverse cultures on campus, has been helpful to international students like him as it offers activities that help students to further understand Philippine culture.
“I believe that the University is relatively inclusive to all people. I once attended an event held by the ISA and [Office for Student Affairs] where they discussed the possibility of a cultural sensitivity training for [UST professors]. I think that would be a great step in the right direction,” he said.
As president of the College of Science Student Council and deputy speaker of the Central Board for Academic Year 2018-2019, Amarnani said he had suggested to UST Rector Father Herminio Dagohoy, O.P and to some student leaders that some theology courses be oriented toward understanding other religions.
Dagohoy, he said, responded that inclusivity in terms of religion was something that needed to be worked on, especially in the future UST satellite campus in General Santos City in Mindanao that “will almost surely have a more diverse population in terms of religion.”
Amarnani was one of the recipients of the Quezon Leadership Award and the College of Science’s Ramsee Henson Leadership Award. Both awards are given to students who have demonstrated exemplary leadership skills in organizing activities relevant to the Thomasian community.