June 23, 2020 – Unnati Mehta twirled and leapt gracefully during two Indian dances—in front of an invisible audience.
Mehta, a doctoral student at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was among the many performers at the School’s 20th annual International Night (i-Night), a multicultural evening of student performances featuring songs, dances, readings, and more, presented by the Harvard Chan Student Association (HCSA). This year’s event, held in mid-May, took place online via Zoom because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the physical distance, the evening showcased a variety of rich cultural performances that brought students from a range of programs and departments together to honor the talents, diverse identities, and backgrounds of Harvard Chan students, reinforce their solidarity, and celebrate the end of the academic year.
Sana Haider, SM ’21, former diversity and inclusion advocate for HCSA and current HCSA president, organized the event with Olivia Sonderman, MPH ’20, and Amy De La Cerda, program coordinator in the Office for Student Affairs. Amber Gautam, MPH ’20, and Rosanna Sobota, MPH ’20, served as co-hosts.
The evening’s performances are listed below in order of appearance:
- Ayah Hamdan, SM ’21, discussed her love of dabke—a traditional dance of the Levantine region with historical, political, and cultural significance for global Arab communities—and introduced three dabke dancers from MIT.
- Unnati Mehta, PhD ’25, performed two Indian dances, one of which she choreographed and one that she learned from a choreographer in Delhi, India.
- Sameen Ansari, MPH ’20, talked about Islam and the significance to Muslims of the holy month of Ramadan.
- Olivia Sonderman, MPH ’20, sang and played a Spanish song on her guitar, noting that music is a way of connecting cultures.
- Toke Odimayomi, MPH ’20, presented a fashion show of colorful Nigerian dresses, together with her mother and sister.
- Helena Hengelbrok, MPH ’21, performed an energetic Zumba dance and encouraged viewers to join in.
- Kristy Sheng, SM ’20, sang a Chinese song about the beauty of nature.
- James Healy, MPH ’21, recited three poems by Irish poets that focused on isolation and the peace of nature, including one in Irish, his native language.
- Jessica Huang, DrPH ’20, played a harp-like instrument called a nyatiti, from the Luo tribe in Kenya, and, with her brother, sang a song in Luo reflecting on upcoming rains.
- Sarah Zelasky, SM ’20, played three favorite Irish pieces on her fiddle that she had learned by ear years ago.
- Alex Lebroski, MPH ’21, played a piece on his ukulele on a beach in Southern California.
- Aaron Troy, MPH ’20, together with a friend, sang a song in Hebrew about finding a ray of light in a time of darkness.
- Sanjana Bhaskar, SM ’21, and Kritika Anand, MPH ’21, danced to an upbeat Bollywood song outside the School’s Shattuck International House.
Viewers from around the world included many incoming Harvard Chan students and several members of the School’s administration. Associate Dean for Student Services Robin Glover, who watched with her husband Bob on their 28th wedding anniversary, Director of Student Affairs Leah Kane, and Dean for Academic Affairs Jane Kim all congratulated the performers and welcomed the incoming students. Associate Director of Student Affairs Colleen Cronin, Senior Associate Dean for Professional Education Nancy Turnbull, and Dean Michelle Williams virtually attended this year’s i-Night as well.