Hi, I’m Maya Shook and I’m the Programming and Curriculum Fellow at Global Minds. I checked in with Global Minds alum and activist Zoe Vongtau to learn about her experience with Global Minds, activism, and college and hear her outlook on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zoe founded the chapter of Global Minds at Baldwin High School, served as the chapter’s president and the narrative storyteller for the national Global Minds board before graduating in 2018, and now attends New York University. Thanks Zoe for sharing your insight with us!
How did you get involved with Global Minds? What impact did it have on your high school experience?
Zoe: In my junior year, I was invited to be on a panel with Peyton, the founder of Global Minds, and was really fascinated with Global Minds. So in addition to joining the student board, I talked with Peyton and she inspired me to start a chapter at my high school. Before Global Minds, I felt that my high school had a serious lack of cultural clubs and so bringing this space was a huge deal to me. In my last year of high school, the club was so integral to making space for discussion and learning,and I am so grateful to have facilitated it.
Having graduated, what impact has Global Minds had on your life post-high school?
Zoe: As a first-year student, I maintained my connections with leadership at my high school in case of questions and guidance I could serve.
In what ways have you engaged in advocacy work in high school and college? Do you have any advice for current high school students interested in activism?
Zoe: Since coming to college a lot of my work has been rooted in the struggle to abolish the prison industrial complex. I am in groups at school and in the city of New York that work towards this goal. I am also involved with student advocacy groups on campus that serve minority and marginalized student rights and services. My advice for current students would be to study/read about movements and history! As a high school student, I truly felt our actions were novel, and although some were, many of our actions and methods reflect the groundwork laid by so many people before us. I recommend students read and study the things you are interested in fighting for.
What has your college experience been like so far? Do you have any plans for the future?
Zoe: I would say that my college experience has been really enlightening so far, academically and in my passion work. It’s been hard to make a transition from embracing the label of student advocate to just a volunteer as some of the spaces I am in for the first time are intergenerational and no one really cares about my identity as a young person lol. Right now I am creating my own major and I plan to stay in New York, continue to organize, and find where I am needed.
What has social distancing been like so far for you? Do you have any advice for students struggling during this difficult time?
Zoe: As for everyone, social distancing and COVID-19 has been difficult and unexpected for me. I am back home with my family and have been trying to plug into ongoing work and maintain communication with friends and other clubs I am in. I think my advice for students struggling right now would be to feel valid in any fear, anger, or frustration or sadness this moment has brought to them. Don’t feel forced to fill all of your days with tasks and new hobbies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and perpetuated existing inequalities in our society, making advocacy and service work very important but harder to do. Do you know of any ways for students to engage in advocacy or service work from their homes?
Zoe: Yes, I absolutely agree that certain folks are now seeing for the first time the hellish impact of capitalism and a greedy government, and I am glad that it has mobilized people to move and close local gaps of need. I recommend that students focus on engaging within their communities and find where they can be of need. It’s common to want to change the world and country overnight, but I’ve been learning that change is also possible, and maybe most important, when it starts around you. I would recommend seeking local avenues/organizations/groups/mutual aid networks to plug into. For those in Pittsburgh, here is a student aid network guide with opportunities to receive and give aid. I would also recommend younger students, if possible and motivated, use this time to study this moment and its impact on our loved ones, neighborhoods, schools, cities, and prepare for methods of advocacy beyond this moment.