During Hindu Awareness Month, Indian Students Struggle with Funding, Food, and Safety


Photo courtesy of ODU’s Indian Student Association (ISA).

The Virginia General Assembly voted on Aug. 1 to officially recognize October as Hindu Heritage and Awareness Month, The cause was championed by Delegate Shuas Subramanyam, the first Indian-American delegate elected to Virginia’s General Assembly. October is an important month for Hindus, with nine days of celebration referred to as Dasara and Diwali, also known as “The Festival of Light.”


Diwali will be celebrated Oct. 24, in correlation with the New Moon. Each year the date of the celebration moves in correlation to the phase of the new moon. This celebration is one of good triumphing over evil, where the goddess Lakshmi defeats the demon Narakasura. 


The celebration of Diwali spans five days. On the first day, homes are cleaned in preparation for Lakshmi’s victory and gold is purchased, a gesture to welcome good fortune in the coming year. On the second day clay lamps called “Diyas” are lit by Hindu students. On campus, an LED lamp is a suitable substitute. The third day is devoted to prayer. On the fourth day, the New Year is celebrated with the New Moon. Finally, on day five there are firecracker celebrations and gatherings of families. 


This year, ODU’s Indian Student Association (ISA) will be hosting their Diwali celebration at North Cafe in the Webb Center at 6 p.m. on Nov. 6. They have extended an invitation to all who wish to come. Complications from space availability due to frustrations in getting the appropriate food catered pushed this celebration to Nov. 6, later than their normal date.


This complication magnifies the daily struggles experienced by ISA and Indian students on campus. Aramark does not provide food options for students from Southeast Asia, forcing the ISA to go through many hoops to get food catering certified on campus. 


Broderick Hall and the Webb Center also do not offer food options that cater to these students.

“I do not feel safe here [at ODU]”

— Abhriram Addepalli

One of the closest grocery stores available for students is in Military Circle, nearly eight miles away from ODU. Exchange students without vehicles must rely on Monarch Transport to get food home. This transport system leaves students scrambling to find their own way to these stores off campus, as the shuttle does not complete enough runs throughout the week. This is an issue that has been brought to the attention of ODU many times and yet remains unresolved. 


Another issue plaguing students is the lack of appropriate facilities to play Cricket, a sport that is very important to Indian exchange students. Cricket, which is very similar to baseball, can be played on baseball fields. However, field space that ODU has available has not been made available to the ISA. 


Vineeth Pottabathini, president of the ISA, said that the ISA has seen an increase in students from India coming to ODU. With a budget cut in half by the Student Government, accommodating these new students is a struggle. The Office of International Student Affairs offers rides to and from the airports, but only during a small window. Pottabthini says that the window should be much larger, closer to 15 days. This forces students to take Ubers and rely on classmates to get a ride to the university. 


Safety is a chief concern among many students, including those in ISA. Abraham Addepalli says he does “not feel safe” here at ODU. International students that live near 49th St have said that shootings are causing them to feel distressed and unsafe. Pottabathini said that he witnessed a shooting outside of his apartment on 49th and never once received an ODU safety alert. 


This month brings into focus the many issues of accommodations for international students that ODU is falling short on addressing, such as funding, food and safety. As Pottabathini said, increasing numbers of students will be coming to ODU from overseas. Little things like trips to grocery stores and recreational activities have big impacts on the overall quality of life for international students. 


For regular updates concerning Diwali and the ISA, follow their Instagram at @isa_odu