Chapter Spotlight: Harvard University  

Over winter break, Alyssa Pascoe, Campus Fellow for the Northeast Region, interviewed Chinaza Asiegbu, UNA-Harvard University chapter president.

Q:”Tell me a bit about yourself, and why you chose to get involved in UNA-USA?”

A: “I’m a junior at Harvard studying history with a secondary in African studies, and a citation in French. I am one of the cofounders of Harvard’s UNA-USA, which we founded in April 2019. The three of us founded our chapter based on a class we took called Humanitarian Activism and Civil Society, which explored the work of intergovernmental organizations. We were really interested in the way the UN has positively impacted the world, and as students interested in international development at large, we thought UNA-USA would be a great addition to Harvard’s campus. At my university there are many organizations that what is happening in global affairs, but there was not as much action. We wanted to bridge the gap between global and local issues; we call it think global, act local.”


Q:”What are some achievements from your chapter that you are proud of?”

A:”It’s been very exciting to see the growth of our chapter since we first started. Our proudest achievement as a chapter would be our activities surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement over the summertime. Initially we were expected a slower summer due to COVID-19, but that was simply not the case. We could not anticipate how much activism could happen in a COVID-19 setting. After the murder of George Floyd and the elevation of many Black Lives Matter protests nationwide, we decided to have an event with Harvard Kennedy School, Students Versus Pandemics chapter at Harvard, the Women in Power conference, and the UNA-USA Greater Boston chapter. We hosted a huge webinar called Elevating Black Voices: Racial Justice and Healing. There were a lot of excellent speakers – Deesha Byer, Curtis Raynold, and Michael Patrick MacDonald. We had them all on the panel and talked about the movement and healing from the wounds of our historical past. We followed up with a July event, Grassroots Advocacy and Media Portrayals of Race, Gender and Protests. UNA-USA Executive Director Rachel Bowen Pittman was part of this panel which was really exciting! Also presenting were Michael Patrick MacDonald, Steven Youngblood, and Vincent Bish. Through these events our chapter was able to collaborate with other organizations on campus such as the Black Students Association, and it was also an opportunity for us to break outside of our university and work with people from the national chapter at UNA-USA. Our chapter was able to work on UNA-USA’s Black Lives Matter petition, and we helped revise language in the racial justice advocacy petition so it could be more tailored for reaching out to members of Congress. This is in support of Congressional Resolution 100, which focuses on reconciling the historical injustices of the past towards minority groups. Our work surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement has been really near and dear to all of our hearts, and we connected this to SDG 10: Reducing Inequality.”


Q:”What makes your chapter unique?”

A:”What makes our chapter so special is our attention to grassroots. At a college like Harvard, it can be easy to focus on global change from a superiority standpoint rather than listen to the people and seeing where change can be brought about. We listen more than we talk. We really try to project and uplift the marginalized communities that need help, and let them tell us how we can help, and allow us to follow their lead versus trying to dictate the change. We’ve seen the most that model, and no matter what we do, we try to focus on what the communities need and listen to them. We hope we can continue to grow the chapter and collaborate with other UNA-USA members and bridge the gap between different marginalized populations, and we want to be the organization that other organizations look to for making connections to promote peace and unity on campus.”


Q:”Tell me about your Uniting in Hope #UN75 event from this fall – what did this event focus on, and what were the highlights?”

A:”It was an excellent example of how UNA-USA chapters can work together to create larger events during this time, with members making the most of our distance by coming together and collaborating. We planned the event with UNA-USA chapters at Boston University and Northeastern University, as well as the United Nations Association of Greater Boston. Because of how much brainpower we had, we were able to get so many people there. We had five speakers from all different backgrounds: DeRay Mckesson, civil rights activist, Dean Adil Najam from the Pardee School of Global Studies, US Representative Jim McGovern, Juan Chebly from the UN World Food Programme, and Justin Lim, UNA-USA youth observer to the UN. Each of these individuals’ speeches were very touching. We also had breakout sessions, which helped us bridge discourse with action following up that discourse. In the breakout sessions people were able to do things such as letter writing, petition writing, and overall promoting advocacy and spreading awareness. This was my favorite event of the semester because there were so many people on board. It was also an example of how the different programs of UNA-USA can bridge together. Our chapter was planning the event, though our main point of contact was Fatoumata Ouedrago, our Emerging Leaders Fellow on behalf of our chapter. That program is somewhat separate from UNA-USA, but it is just as dire and crucial to our entire organization.”


Q:”What is your chapter planning for the upcoming semester?”

A:”The semester before COVID-19 we had a different model of how we were planning on going about our service. In the spring before we were sent home, we were doing dinner table talks where we would choose a topic happening in the world and talk about it in a dining hall over a meal. Every other week we volunteered at The Friday Café – not only is it a food shelter that serves food to the homeless, but they also fellowship with the homeless. It’s a very modern take on what food shelters are, because it not only feeds the homeless but also has volunteers commune with homeless people. It really humanizes what has been so dehumanized for so many years. This organization is right in our backyard, and yet Harvard students don’t work with them. Because of COVID-19 it’s been harder to get students there, but this upcoming semester it will be easier to get students to serve, so we’re hoping to continue service. We also hope to continue our focus on the SDGs. One idea that one of our freshman representatives had is focusing on an SDG and centering an event around that, similarly to our Uniting in Hope event. There is so much happening around the world right now with democracy, the pandemic, and social activist movements, and there are so many opportunities for us to collaborate with other organizations. This is what we are planning on focusing on in the upcoming year. This fall semester we had an event with the Native Americans at Harvard College. We made sure we didn’t take up too much space, and it was their president who was educating us. She gave us a presentation focused on Native American marginalization in society and history, and afterwards we did letter writing and phone banking, and publicizing donations on our social media. We’re hoping to collaborate with as many cultural organizations as we can, and look at the ways different SDGs intersect while focusing on the SDG of Reducing Inequality. Our chapter has also been working with a Youth Sustainability Development Conference in Nigeria, where we are working with Nigerian youth to promote development and help university students come up with innovative ideas for change.”


Q:”Do you have any advice for other chapters struggling to adapt to virtual operations?”

A:”I would tell them to really take advantage of this time to collaborate with other organizations, take advantage of this time to reach out to other UNA-USA chapters and other organizations doing similar work within your own campus – you will be surprised with how many organizations would love to work with you in some way, and there are a lot more students you open up to when you collaborate. People at the UN Foundation are so receptive, and they will be more than happy to talk to you about different ideas to collaborate with different organizations so definitely reach out to them.The way our chapter operates, we believe that every weakness can be turned into a strength. This philosophy has helped us as we look towards ways to impact the world and create global change. We believe that even weaknesses we see in the world can be turned into positives if you apply love and passion and the desire to promote good in the world. The same philosophy that we apply to our service initiatives and our advocacy can be applied to this transition into COVID-19 and digital learning. These weaknesses of not being in person can be turned into strengths with collaboration and creative ideas to promote new change. We can take a step back and focus on what is really important, and create new ideas and promote on creativity.”