Pursuing My Passion – Salima Etoka ’15

Pursuing My Passion – Salima Etoka ’15

Interviewed by Brener De Souza ’22


BDS: What have you done since leaving Trinity?


SE: After I graduated from Trinity, I received a New York City Urban Fellowship, which allowed me to spend nine months in a city agency. I was with the department of social services. After that, I worked at a nonprofit that addresses on affordable housing in New York City. I am in graduate school now at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS)—if you’re interested in going to grad school, here’s my blog about what it’s like.


BDS: Is there anything you learned at Trinity that you’ve used/has helped you in your career?

SE: The classes I took at Trinity made me interested in the ways in which domestic and local politics impact regular people. Trinity also piqued my interest in international politics. In addition to my coursework, I had the opportunity to explore these issues while studying abroad. I traveled to China and Laos in 2013 through the China summer study away program to explore the effects of urbanization and development. I spent the fall of 2014 studying at Sciences Po in Paris, France and took courses on immigration and integration policies. The following spring, I completed a program in development studies in Dakar, Senegal, and stayed over the summer to conduct research for my senior theses. I conducted interviews with community-based organizations and document review to understand the mobilization and advocacy for the gender parity law passed in 2010 for political science. I used questionnaires, interviews, and observations to understand the built environment and lived experiences of Pikine, a suburb of Dakar, for urban studies. I was also interested in how the residents navigated a space where they felt marginalized.


My experiences in the classroom and studying abroad at Trinity have been extremely useful in my career. My understanding of local and domestic politics helped me while working for New York City municipal government and assisting homeowners who facing foreclosures or navigating city programs. It was important for me to understand how people are affected by policies. It’s also been useful in graduate school as I’m interested in international politics and thinking about my plans post-HKS.


BDS: What is your proudest accomplishment since graduating Trinity?


SE: I’m proud of the path I’ve taken so far, having worked for a few years and then gotten the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. I’m excited to learn a new set of skill sets through grad school. I want to add those to what Trinity gave me and find a position in an international nonprofit or international governmental organization once I’ve graduated from here. I care passionately about gender equality and female empowerment. I’m looking at the intersection of advocacy and policy and the ways in which we can use those tools to empower women, especially women in sub-Saharan Africa, to improve their lives and give them more opportunities. I want to serve those in marginalized communities.


BDS: What would you like other alums to know about you?

SE: I was born in Congo and raised here in the United States. I feel that the opportunities I was given at Trinity benefitted me, but also my family and my community. I’m proud of my accomplishments, but there were others who didn’t get the same opportunities. I also want to build a network for first-generation students. It is hard having all that stress on your shoulders.


BDS: What are some of your hobbies/passion projects, successes, or milestones?


SE: I’ve been a volunteer for three years with Malaika, a grassroots nonprofit organization that is transforming lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo by improving access to education, healthcare, and water. I assist with different projects using my writing, event planning, and French skills. This year, I organized an event to introduce Malaika to the Harvard community and a roundtable discussion on the importance of education, especially for girls. Our guest speaker was Noella Coursaris Musunka, a Congolese/Cypriot international model and humanitarian, who is the founder of Malaika. This summer I finally get to visit the school, and I am so excited. Malaika has provided me a wonderful opportunity to give back to causes about which I care deeply.


Besides Malaika, I love traveling, watching TV, and listening to music! I love all the amazing content coming out of Netflix and the like; we are seeing bold new creative productions from countries all around the world. I also love traveling and seeing new cool places, as it expands your mind and challenges your existing perceptions. Additionally, I love Afrobeats music and French hip hop; there’s a wave of really great artists coming out of Nigeria, like Davido, Yemi Alade, Wizkid, and Tiwa Savage. And in France, the African diaspora has artists like Aya Nakamura, Soprano, and Sexion D’Assault. I recommend a listen!