Kudzai Munyavi isn’t content to follow the beaten path.

Author Anastasia C. Curwood, left, and Kudzai Munvayi at the Martha Swain Lecture Series in March on The W campus. Chisholm wrote the book “Shirley Chisholm: Champion of Black Feminist Power Politics.” Munyavi served as moderator.

If she was, Munyavi would have remained in her home country of Zimbabwe and never embarked on a journey of self-exploration. Instead, Munyavi has forged a trail that has taken her from Zimbabwe to Moscow, Idaho, and Columbus, Mississippi.

Now, as a graduate student in Mississippi University for Women’s Women’s Leadership program, Munyavi will have an opportunity to expand her horizons as an intern for Outright International at the United Nations in New York.

“I can’t wait to be mind-blown, particularly by global south activists who worked in countries that successfully decriminalized LGBTQI activities,” said Munyavi, who has been at The W for one-and-a-half years. “I hope to learn a lot of negotiation and lobbying skills, but above all, I am excited for the growth and the networking opportunities this internship offers.”

Outright International is the only US-based LGBTQI organization that has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the permanent LGBTQI seat at the United Nations, an intergovernmental organization whose stated purposes are to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation and serve as a center for harmonizing the actions of nations.

LGBTQI is an umbrella term for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Outright International works with partners around the world to strengthen the capacity of the LGBTQI human rights movement, document and amplify human rights violations and advocate for inclusion and equality.

Munyavi will intern in the United Nations Engagements from June to August 2023. She said she wanted to work with the United Nations because it influences world politics, particularly the advancement of human rights in this global era of sustainable development.

“The United Nations is a very potent apparatus in dispelling homophobia in the global south, and so I wanted my research to be part of the movement,” said Munyavi, who started her undergraduate work in Zimbabwe before she studied at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho for a semester and then returned to Zimbabwe to complete her degree. “When I enrolled in graduate school, my goal was never to write a thesis that would end up in some repository waiting for a reader; the goal was to weave an argument that can be used to litigate and prosecute for LGBTQI rights in the global south, of course through collaborative efforts with organizations like the United Nations.”

Prior to working at the United Nations, Munyavi presented her paper “Beyond Spirit Mediums: Using Academia to Debunk Myths of African Queerness” at the “Translating Knowledge: From Theory to Praxis Application”, a Sociology and Social Anthropology Graduate Conference on June 2-3 at the Central European University campus in Vienna. Munyavi will present the paper virtually.

Munyavi did the paper for Dr. Jill Drouillard’s Leadership Inquiries, Research and Methodology class and then submitted it to the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies South Conference, where it was accepted. Drouillard said Munyavi presented the paper and handled herself extremely well, just as she did in March when she served as moderator for the Martha Swain Lecture Series with author Anastasia C. Curwood.

“After Kudzai’s paper was accepted to the WGS South Conference, I think she started putting herself out there more,” Drouillard said. “She started applying for more things (conferences, fellowships, internships), as I received more requests to look documents over, write letters of recommendation and provide interview advice. Kudzai has always been a very vocal student in class, and I am constantly impressed with her ability to analyze difficult texts.”

Dr. Shahara’Tova Dente, assistant professor of English & Women’s Studies and the graduate director of Women’s Leadership, also has had Munyavi as a student in her classes. She said Munyavi has matured as a critical writer and as a cultural critic and has developed and shaped her voice through critical debate, writing, research and critical discussions.

“She is very respectful, is always present for class and she has an eagerness for learning new things,” Dente wrote in a letter to Dr. Bridget Pieschel, a longtime member of The W faculty, recommending Munyavi for Philanthropic Educational Organization (P.E.O.) Foundation funding to help her complete her studies in the Women’s Leadership Program and to assist her in any doctoral studies. “These are vital traits for a successful graduate student. Not just a present student, Kudzai’s infectious personality makes her a welcome addition to the classroom environment.” 

Munyavi said she will live in a “BnB”, or Bed and Breakfast, during the internship and that she is ready for a mind-blowing summer.

“The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg (a former associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States) said something along the lines of, nobody knows oppression more than someone who has been a victim of oppression,” Munyavi said. “My membership in the LGBTQI community is the chief impetus behind all my activism.”

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

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