Student Leader Profile: MASSPIRG leader Julia Seremba set on enacting social change

By Serena McMahon

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The Daily Collegian is running a weekly series this semester which profiles student leaders on campus and highlights their impact on the community. If you wish to nominate someone you feel is making a significant impact on campus, please email your suggestion to [email protected].

Julia Seremba is a sophomore civic engagement and nonprofit management major at the University of Massachusetts, whose passion for student activism can be seen through her leadership in Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) on campus. She has worked on their major national campaigns such as calling on Subway to remove antibiotics from their meats, which resulted in success this past October. Her direct and focused activism within MASSPIRG has revealed Seremba as a prominent activist for social issues that millennials care about.

Serena McMahon: How did you first get involved in MASSPIRG?

Julia Seremba: Last year, as a first semester freshman, I didn’t know what I was going to do in college. I started going to MASSPIRG meetings and getting more involved and I realized the people were really cool. I started getting involved in the New Voters Project, which is the campaign where we register students to vote. I started to really enjoy MASSPIRG and was like, “Oh I can really (see) myself doing this work.”

SM: What have you done so far in your work with MASSPIRG?

JS: I worked on the Bottle Bill for a little bit, which was increasing recycling by putting five-cent deposits on all single used beverages. Then, I wanted to get even more involved and I became the campaign coordinator last spring for the antibiotics campaign, where we were getting McDonald’s to switch to antibiotic free meat. We won and McDonald’s committed to antibiotic free chicken, not all their meats, but it was still an awesome win. The win was last semester, in April. All the work I’d been putting into this campaign was all worth it, and I could see myself doing this and realized no matter what it is, I know I’m making a difference and organizing people and getting people to make change.

SM: Can you tell me about your work with MASSPIRG’s national campaign against antibiotics in meats at Subway?

JS: We went into this fall semester with the same campaign (as McDonald’s) but now targeting Subway. Just a few weeks ago, Subway came out and said they were switching over from antibiotics, right before our big day of action we were going to have. The day of action (included) 50 campuses across the country and (the work consisted of) going to local Subways in their town and basically (saying), “We want you to switch over,” and to get a bunch of media coverage. Two days before that big day of action, Subway got word that we were going to be doing this and that people were going to be going to the Subway headquarters in Connecticut and delivering petitions. Subway said in an article that when they found out a coalition of workers were coming, they decided to switch (to antibiotic free meat). They knew we were coming and it was awesome.  Now MASSPIRG is in the process of picking the next target, which we are getting students on campus to vote for. The top three right now are Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Burger King. That would be for next semester.

SM: What does your leadership in MASSPIRG entail?

JS: At the beginning of each semester we had our big kickoff meeting (where) I presented on my campaign and explained what we are going to be doing this semester. I recruit people who are interested in my campaign, invite them to events and get them involved. I also put them into other roles, so they take on different pieces of the campaign. It’s one big team effort.  I have a really dedicated team this semester. I am also a MASSPIRG State Board Representative for UMass Amherst. There are different representatives from the 13 campuses across Massachusetts with MASSPIRG chapters. We vote on the budget, what we want our lead campaign to be each semester and have broader discussions.

SM: What are the future campaigns you’ll specifically be working on in MASSPIRG next semester?

JS: I plan on passing on the antibiotics campaign to someone currently in the campaign to take over the role, although I love running it. Going into my junior year, I plan on running the New Voters Project for the presidential election, which is when we will be registering thousands of students across the campus to vote, which will be huge. Gearing towards that, I am going to be running a campaign called “What’s Your Plan?” It’s basically bird-dogging candidates’ events. We would go and demand free higher education, or ask what their specific plans are in connection to the campaigns we are running. We want to get people involved in the whole voting process. It’s so important to have your voice heard and to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.

SM: Can you explain what your major is?

JS: I currently am in the process of creating a BDIC major. I am in the proposal class this semester and I am hoping to come out of it with a declared major of civic engagement and nonprofit management. This means I’ll be creating a curriculum from three or more different departments that involve service learning, sociology and management. I’m basically majoring in MASSPIRG.

SM: Why did you choose to build your own major?

JS: I found out about the BDIC major and the civil engagement programs within BDIC, and thought it was cool. You have civic engagement in your title and a focus after that, which is where nonprofit management comes in. I wanted something more specific and I knew exactly what I was interested in, so I wanted to build off of that. On each of the PIRGs chapters across the country there is a campus organizer, which is a student member who is not a student, which is my goal for when I graduate. At least for one year, I want to organize on a college campus. Whether it’s Massachusetts or anywhere else, that’s what I’m set on when I graduate.

SM: What do you think makes you a leader at UMass?

JS: I think what makes me a leader at UMass is that I am able to organize a set group of people and have a clear goal and actually make real social change and make a difference on issues that people care about, and are affecting so many people.


Serena McMahon can be reached at [email protected]