College sophomores Abrina Hyatt and Meron Zeru, the two new planning and facilitating co-chairs of UMOJA, both pointed to the influence of their predecessors as a major influence on their decision to run for board positions.

Credit: Justin Cohen / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Last week, UMOJA — the umbrella organization for black student groups on campus — elected College sophomores Abrina Hyatt and Meron Zeru as its new planning and facilitating co-chairs. Both are continuing their work with UMOJA, Zeru having served as external political co-chair and Hyatt having served as correspondent. The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with Hyatt and Zeru to discuss their plans for the upcoming year.

Daily Pennsylvanian: What has been UMOJA’s role on campus?
Meron Zeru: UMOJA stands for unity. The whole point is to make sure that groups and people in these groups feel like there’s a sense of community on this campus. It’s easy to be segmented in the different groups, whether you’re a performing arts group or a political group.
Abrina Hyatt: UMOJA is the intermediary between Penn’s administration and the black community. Presidents of our constituent groups can let us know if they have issues or voice concerns, and then we in turn can voice that to the administration.

DP: What are your main goals for UMOJA and its constituent groups?
MZ: My main goal is to increase collaboration between the groups. There was just an event with African Rhythms and Inspiration, and I want to make sure things like that happen but on a larger scale, not only within the black community but outside of it too. We’re going to create more of a sense of community and make sure that people feel like they belong.

DP: Why did you choose to run for planning and facilitating chair?
MZ: Last year, I heard about UMOJA through Aya Saed, who was the former planning and facilitating chair [and current DP columnist], and she really got me interested. She changed the board to be what it’s supposed to be and really got our name out on campus. Just seeing what she did and knowing that we have the potential to take it even further made me want to be chair.
AH: Aya, for both of us, is a huge mentor figure. She helped us understand what UMOJA could be. We’ve seen the results of some of the things that Aya pushed for come to fruition. We knew that UMOJA could be something more than just being president of a club — it was something that could actually cause change on Penn’s campus.

DP: Now that the Action Plans for Faculty Diversity and Excellence have been created, how will UMOJA continue to work with the University to increase faculty diversity on campus?
MZ: I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that we follow up and make sure that they don’t move on to the next thing, to make sure that every time we meet with the administration we bring it up and keep reinforcing that there’s still a long way to go.

DP: What are you most looking forward to in your new position?
MZ: I’m really excited to work with Abrina. I know that we are really passionate in what we believe in, and we’re willing to put in the work. We have very determined, dedicated people on our board. Every single position is someone who I think is going to make a huge difference in their own way, and I’m really excited for people on campus to see UMOJA in action.
AH: I think that we can do a whole lot, especially because this board is young compared to past boards. I believe in our potential. I think that the work we do in 2013 will be really great.

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