Student ambassadors protest UNESCO chair termination

Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu presents an award top a colleague on Sept. 11, 2012. He has recently been removed from his post as the UNESCO chair at UConn. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

The UConn Student Ambassadors, formerly UNESCO Student Ambassadors, did not appear for their meeting Thursday night out of protest over the recent termination of the UNESCO Chair.

The UNESCO Chair position, held by Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu, was terminated Dec. 20, 2016. Omara-Otunnu has claimed this is because of the university not filing the paperwork, which has never been previously needed.

UConn claims a change in procedure that required renewal and that UNESCO subsequently contacted the “logical person at each location, the chair holders themselves,” according to UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz.

“It seems very odd that on one hand the university values the student ambassador program, a byproduct of the UNESCO Chair, and then they revoke the UNESCO chair and terminate it in such an abrupt fashion,” fifth-semester political science and economics major Matthew Byanyima said, “I have since stopped going to the club and have no intention going to the new club under by Global Affairs.”

Byanyima has been active in the club since his freshman year.

“I joined my freshman year, when I met Sneha at the involvement fair,” Byanyima said. “I am interested in human rights issues and during my two years we have been active in presentations and group organized fundraisers for Syrian refugees, homeless children in Hartford and [the African nation of] Chad.”

Sneha Jayaraj is a sixth-semester economics and psychology major. She is also a Student Ambassador and has been active for the past three years.

“The way we look at it, the UNESCO Student Ambassador program was created for human rights,” Jayarai said. “The termination of UNESCO Chair is a violation to Dr. O’s (Omara-Otunnu) human rights.”

The only people who appeared at the meeting were Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu, the former UNESCO Chair, and Yousouff Bellamy, the graduate student facilitator.

Bellamy has reported that turnout has been low at meetings.

“I came tonight to clear up any confusion the students may have,” Omara-Otunnu said. “We do not respect our young people enough. It is so hurtful when they don’t see the right thing being done.”

Bellamy reports that their 20 students that had regularly attend the two-hour meetings. The university has not contacted Bellmay regarding the termination of UNESCO Chair and the Student Ambassador program.

UConn still articulates its pride for the Student Ambassador program.

“UConn is immensely proud of its student ambassador program and will continue that, along with a broad array of other programs and activities to underscore the importance of being a global citizen,” Reitz said. “Although we are disappointed by the string of events that led to the cancellation of the UNESCO chair, UConn remains fully committed to human rights and dignity worldwide.”

Reitz asserts that this termination is because of Omara-Otunnu had not filed the proper paperwork.

“UConn is losing the UNESCO position because the original correspondence sent specifically to Prof. Omara-Otunnu was never answered or forwarded to others at UConn to review, and his attempts to blame others are directly contradicted by the emails and documents attached to this message,” Reitz said.

Omara-Otunnu has pointed to the letter received by the office of UConn President Susan Herbst, articulating that the letter was addressed to Herbst, not Omara-Otunnu, and is regarding those communications.

“This was my vision and my philosophy [in reference to Student Ambassadors],” Omara-Otunnu said. “I have not been consulted about moving forward with the Student Ambassador program [in addition to UNESCO Chair].”


Elizabeth Charash is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at elizabeth.charash@uconn.edu.