The former president of the Harvard Undergraduate Foreign Policy Initiative, just weeks after the conclusion of her term, transferred approximately $30,000 from the organization’s bank account to her own.
In the months since the Jan. 1 transfer, HUFPI has tried — and failed — to recover all the funds from its former president, Sama E.N. Kubba ’24. Communications obtained by The Crimson show that Kubba froze the club’s bank account, withheld access to social media accounts and the group’s website, and canceled travel arrangements without HUFPI’s approval.
Kubba has not responded to requests for comment on the current status of the funds. In a Jan. 9 email to HUFPI leaders obtained by The Crimson, she offered to return the money and social media accounts in exchange for more than $10,000 for “emotional distress and wrongdoing” and the club trips she was removed from following the dispute.
Over the past two months, The Crimson spoke with 10 current and former HUFPI members and reviewed more than 100 organization documents and emails, uncovering a pattern of internal conflict and financial misconduct around Kubba’s presidency.
As president, Kubba allegedly leveraged her control over HUFPI and its finances with little oversight, according to current and former club members. These sources allege Kubba took improper actions, including spending club funds for unauthorized personal use, threatening to freeze HUFPI funding during a summit, and refusing to aid in the transition of the club’s next leaders.
Kubba, who spoke to The Crimson regarding some of the allegations, said in a January interview that she transferred the funds to protect the HUFPI account from fraud. She also denied accusations of improper personal spending with a HUFPI credit card and said unauthorized transactions may be fraudulent. In an email to current HUFPI leadership on Jan. 7, Kubba claimed she canceled the travel arrangements accidentally.
Due to the sensitive nature of the dispute and sources’ concerns over possible disciplinary action, The Crimson has granted anonymity to several current and former members of HUFPI to discuss Kubba’s tenure and the fallout from her departure.
HUFPI declined to comment on specific allegations against the club or its former president.
“While the organization is unable to comment on any current investigations relating to the conduct of former members, HUFPI and its Board have taken the appropriate steps to strengthen financial security and promote a positive extracurricular culture,” HUFPI Co-Presidents Cosette T. Wu ’25 and Joyce Chen ’25 wrote in an email on behalf of the organization.
“The situation is still unresolved,” they added.
Since speaking to The Crimson on Jan. 11, Kubba subsequently sought to retract all on-the-record statements. She did not respond to later requests for comment regarding freezing HUFPI funding or refusing to cooperate with the club’s transition process.
“I’m gonna welcome anything that is needed to clear my name,” Kubba said in January. “I believe in what I did, and I believe that the intentions that I had for what I did were good.”
“I’ve spent too much on this organization to not act in its interests,” she added. “At the end of the day, I’m going to try to be an open book.”
Soon after Wu and Chen, Kubba’s successors, began their tenure, they found themselves locked out of HUFPI’s bank account and unable to control the group’s website or several of its social media accounts.
At the end of December, shortly after Kubba exited HUFPI’s presidency, she froze the club’s Bank of America account, according to internal documents obtained by The Crimson. HUFPI leaders were able to regain access to the account and subsequently changed the password.
But on Jan. 1, HUFPI received an email that there had been a modification to the club’s Bank of America user ID. Bank of America also sent emails to HUFPI indicating its bank account’s password had been reset and the senior director of finance’s debit card had been locked.
That day, approximately $30,000 was transferred from the HUFPI bank account into an account under Kubba’s name, multiple financial records obtained by The Crimson show.
On Jan. 2, a report of “stolen U.S. currency valued at $29,996.00” was filed with the Harvard University Police Department. The address for the report is listed as the Student Organization Center at Hilles, a Dean of Students Office building that acts as a physical space for undergraduate clubs.
The report was later reclassified as “Assist Citizen,” before the case was later closed on Feb. 1.
Following the discovery of the missing funds, the club contacted Kubba and requested that she “renounce access to all HUFPI financial assets.”
“It has come to our attention that you have breached your duties to this organization, interfered with the activity of this organization, violated its rules and policies, and have apparently engaged in financial self-dealing,” reads a Jan. 4 email to Kubba, signed unanimously by the club’s executive committee.
HUFPI executives also allege they saw their access to the club’s LinkedIn and Instagram accounts revoked during the transition, according to internal communications obtained by The Crimson.
The club received notification on Jan. 1 that its Wix premium account — which hosted HUFPI’s public-facing website — had been canceled.
As of this article’s publishing, HUFPI’s website is offline and the club’s most recent Instagram post is dated Jan. 1.
In response to the executive committee’s email, Kubba wrote on Jan. 4 that she believed the account had been compromised and that changing the login information and transferring the funds was done in an effort to protect club funds.
“When the login information was changed without my knowledge, Bank of America notified me because I am the primary account holder and informed me they believed it was fraud,” Kubba wrote in a Jan. 4 reply to HUFPI leadership.
“The money remains untouched and safe, and it will be deposited in-person at our BoA appointment after Jan 20th once our account is secured from further fraud,” she added.
In a separate email on Jan. 4, HUFPI leadership notified Kubba that she would not be joining the club on upcoming trips to France, Costa Rica, and South Korea.
Three days later, Kubba said she planned to take a “new approach,” and froze the account again.
“I froze the funds of the HUFPI account until the handover of the BoA account officially happens,” wrote Kubba in a Jan. 7 email to HUFPI executives.
“Until the account is unlinked to my social security number, I locked our account,” Kubba wrote. “That way, no more purchases or transfers are happening until there is a handover, and my name is thereby protected.”
HUFPI leadership disputed this line of reasoning in an emailed statement to The Crimson Thursday.
“Sama has never ‘owned’ the Bank of America account. HUFPI’s bank account cannot be owned by any individual; it is a business account owned by the organization itself. As such, the account had no impact on her, her credit score, etc. Furthermore, Sama neither is nor ever was a guarantor on the BOA credit accounts,” Chen and Wu wrote on behalf of HUFPI.
“These facts were confirmed many times by Bank of America’s representative to HUFPI and relayed directly to Sama (by the Bank representative) at the time of account opening,” they added.
Kubba did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the statement.
In a Jan. 7 email to the executive committee, Kubba defended her actions.
“I was not going to sit by and wait for a disaster to happen, especially knowing the problems with past financial management,” Kubba wrote. “With no communication, and the bank account still under my name, I took the steps I thought were necessary to protect myself, without in any way preventing the organization from continuing to work as normal.”
Kubba told The Crimson in January that she was advised by a “lawyer friend” to promptly return the money to HUFPI.
On Jan. 8, Kubba attempted to transfer $26,496 to a HUFPI account through PayPal. She also transferred $3,500 to the club via Zelle. However, the PayPal transfer was later reversed.
Around this same time, Kubba discovered that roughly $15,000 was frozen in her personal bank account, leaving it in the negative.
On Jan. 9, Kubba emailed HUFPI leadership to request roughly $5,600 in compensation for the three HUFPI-funded international trips that she had been barred from. She also requested $5,000 for “distress caused by the false police report and dramatic cut from the trips without a fair trial.”
In emails obtained by The Crimson, HUFPI leadership responded by suggesting mediation through the Harvard Ombuds Office. In addition, the two parties emailed to understand the $15,000 hold against Kubba’s account. HUFPI claimed it was not responsible for the freeze.
On Jan. 21, Kubba appeared to attempt to negotiate a resolution with HUFPI.
“This is my proposal to move us forward to a resolution: compensation for the trips I was removed from in exchange for the social media accounts and the money that Paypal returned to me,” Kubba wrote. “The requested compensation amount is $10,613.36, but I am willing to negotiate.”
As of Thursday, the situation is still “unresolved” according to a statement by Wu and Chen on behalf of HUFPI.
Internal communications obtained by The Crimson show that Kubba canceled the club’s flights to Costa Rica, incurring a large cancellation fee. Kubba claimed she had intended only to cancel her own ticket but canceled the group order by mistake.
“That was an accident, and I didn’t realize until I saw the email confirmation,” Kubba wrote in a Jan. 9 email to HUFPI executives. “I will not be paying up the difference, nor am I ‘liable’ to do so.”
HUFPI got its start like any Harvard club — with a niche.
Sahil S. Lauji ’21 said he noticed a dearth of foreign policy opportunities at Harvard and decided to start an organization where undergraduates could research policy projects with professionals.
In spring 2020 — HUFPI’s first semester — the organization consisted of several dozen members working on six policy projects. By its second semester, HUFPI had ballooned in size to surpass 100 members working across as many as 20 policy projects, according to Lauji.
Lauji left the group with the idea to host a conference to expand the club’s work to high school students — a program that became the Harvard Undergraduate International Relations Scholars Program.
Kubba, whom HUFPI’s website credited as the conference’s founder, said the impetus to create the Scholars Program was also based on the club’s bottom line. In spring 2021, according to Kubba, HUFPI had “barely enough to pay for the website.”
The 615 students who were accepted to the inaugural conference, which took place virtually in summer 2021, heard keynote presentations from foreign policy titans including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ’50, Blackstone CEO Stephen A. Schwarzman, and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Attendees interviewed by The Crimson said the conference delivered on its mission of teaching high school students about foreign policy.
Scholars Program alumni Kaushik Pardeshi said the conference was “totally worth it” and lauded its “informative, novel, and interesting” programming.
The conference also delivered on its fundraising mission.
Though the program distributed scholarships, participants paid as much as $450 to attend the inaugural conference, with fees jumping to $750 the following year. According to a May 2022 email Kubba sent to club leadership obtained by The Crimson, the first high school conference earned the club roughly $188,000.
Still, budgets of this size — or larger — are not unheard of among Harvard student organizations.
According to public tax filings, undergraduate-run groups such as the Harvard College Association for U.S.-China Relations and Harvard Student Agencies have boasted annual revenue figures in excess of $100,000.
Unlike HUFPI, these clubs have alumni advisory boards, composed of graduates who provide advice and oversight to the groups.
HUFPI’s newfound revenue from conferences enabled the club to expand, providing members with the opportunity to travel domestically and internationally to advise some of the world’s most powerful foreign policy players.
The organization also invested some of its funding into internal club perks.
Documents obtained by The Crimson show the club purchased a corgi in 2021. HUFPI’s website referred to the dog, named Smoky, as the club’s “Ambassador of Love” until fall 2022.
Internal budgets from 2021 and 2022 obtained by The Crimson list more than $4,000 in spending on the dog, including $50 for travel costs and “damages to a personal item” as well as four payments of approximately $300 each spent on “pet-sitting” and dog care supplies.
Kubba said College administrators cautioned HUFPI against continuing to spend funds on the dog, and the club subsequently placed Smoky in the care of a HUFPI alumnus.
College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman declined to comment on HUFPI spending on Smoky.
Kubba joined HUFPI as a policy researcher during her freshman year in fall 2020. By the end of the academic year, she had ascended to the club’s vice presidency, playing significant roles in club operations and policy research.
In December 2021, Kubba became HUFPI’s president.
As president, Kubba initiated HUFPI’s first Women in Foreign Policy Conference, which featured remarks from Secretary of State Antony Blinken ’84, a former Crimson editor.
In an internal email sent on Dec. 10, 2022, Kubba described her work to launch new diversity initiatives and organize a board retreat. Kubba also discussed launching a new stipend program for board members, which she described as “compensation for their time” in the email.
Three sources familiar with the program said the club paid stipends to deputy and senior directors in the organization for the fall 2022 semester. The stipends, which included a base amount and a bonus, totaled as much as $250 dollars for senior members — including Kubba.
The amount of the bonus depended on criteria that included board meeting attendance, according to three sources familiar with the program and internal emails obtained by The Crimson.
“Members must attend at least 50% of board meetings in the summer and fall or the President going to have a commitment meeting with them and their compensation is at stake,” an October 2022 email from a senior director reads.
Another email conveys members’ compensation was based on their use of ClickUp, a project management site. “Use clickup if you want a stipend bonus this semester,” Kubba wrote in an August 2022 email to the HUFPI board.
A 2022-2023 budget document obtained by The Crimson suggests Kubba originally advocated for performance-based bonuses, but the idea was opposed by the club’s finance team, who cited the difficulty of objectively measuring performance.
“i only want outstanding people earning--its not a [bonus] if everyone gets it,” Kubba wrote in the sheet. “not everyone deserves it.”
This practice was likely in violation of the guidelines set forth by the Dean of Students Office, a Harvard College body that oversees undergraduate social life and activities.
A 2022-2023 resource guide published by the DSO states that “no earnings of an undergraduate organization may accrue to individual members” without approval — which Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier said was more of a formality.
“Harvard College treats our student organizations as independent entities and organizations are therefore free to conduct business as it best behooves them,” Meier said. “We would not intervene in that.”
In a January interview, Kubba said the payments were meant to compensate low-income members for their work, and members were forbidden from using the stipends for certain purchases, such as alcohol.
“We were basically just trying to compensate people fairly for a lot of the work they put in,” Kubba said. “We basically categorize those as financial hardship scholarships.”
Other clubs — including the Harvard College Consulting Group and The Harvard Crimson — pay some members through need-based financial aid programs, but these stipends are typically monitored by alumni boards and not subject to discretionary withholding by student leaders.
Nicholas J. Brennan ’23, who served as senior finance director during the program, claimed the newly formed finance team was given “little influence” over the stipend program.
“At no point did the finance team either disburse stipends or have the power to formally amend the program,” Brennan wrote in a statement Thursday. “The stipend program was abolished shortly after the turn of the year.”
Kubba did not respond to a request for comment on this characterization.
Separate from stipends, some club executives also received credit cards linked to HUFPI accounts for paying club-related expenses. HUFPI accused Kubba in its Jan. 4 email of having improperly used her credit card during her tenure as president.
A list of the transactions on Kubba’s HUFPI credit card obtained by The Crimson includes $275 in expenses accrued at hair and nail salons, with one transaction taking place in Virginia Beach — Kubba’s hometown.
The transactions list also shows more than $1,200 spent in a single day in May at an upscale French department store, while HUFPI was in Paris for a foreign policy trip.
Kubba did not comment on the specific transactions, but she denied improper use of her HUFPI credit card and suggested there may have been fraudulent purchases made on the card in a January interview.
“If I get more clarification, I’m happy to either explain what the charge is and how it related to HUFPI, or probably label it as fraud — something that needs to be reported to the bank and not to me,” Kubba said.
In June 2022, HUFPI ratified a new constitution authored by then-president Kubba, which gave expansive power to the club’s president.
Though it was previously ambiguous, the new document explicitly tasked the president of the organization with unilaterally appointing all senior directors — the highest-ranking officers in the club after the president and vice presidents.
The new constitution also granted the president veto power over all board votes, which could only be overridden by a subsequent unanimous board vote. Another provision of the constitution held that the club’s board is unable to hold votes in the absence of the president.
Another change gave the president the choice of whether or not to elect vice presidents. According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, Kubba originally served with two vice presidents before they both resigned simultaneously in March 2022.
Though several current and former HUFPI members described Kubba’s work ethic as impressive, Irati Egorho Diez ’25 — the club’s current senior director of speakers — said Kubba’s position as president gave her power over advancement within the organization.
“I think it became very clear to me early on upon joining HUFPI that a lot of positions and vertical movement within the organization was contingent on Sama and Sama’s opinion of you,” Egorho Diez said, though she added she felt delegations were chosen based on merit. “Particularly I felt this when it came to going out, positions, and travel opportunities.”
Kubba did not respond to a request for comment on her perceived power in the organization.
As her presidency came to a close, Kubba wrote a farewell email to the organization.
“This is an org that gave me the freedom to be me and chase my wildest dreams,” her email reads. “I never thought I would have this much autonomy to have a platform to government leaders and make so much money.”
On Dec. 10, 2022, Kubba appeared to prematurely leave her presidency, which was set to conclude at the end of the month.
“I’ll spend the next couple weeks getting our new Co-Presidents-elect set up, help as I can and transition them over, but I’m on my way out as the official head of the organization,” she wrote in the farewell address, with the subject line “bye.”
But as Kubba’s successors — Chen and Wu — began to take up leadership, Kubba abandoned an official transition amid a dispute over how to pay for a sudden change to travel plans. Chen and Wu wrote in a statement on behalf of HUFPI that they had offered to purchase tickets for members whose flights had been canceled with surplus club funds.
In response, Kubba texted the pair on Dec. 18 that she would not aid in their transition.
“Since you guys are making calls without me and have zero respect for what I have to say, you can transition yourselves,” Kubba wrote in a text, according to records obtained by The Crimson.
Kubba did not respond to a request for comment on Chen and Wu’s statement on the trip planning conflict.
Ten minutes later, Kubba also sent a message to the HUFPI directors group chat communicating that she would be departing from her presidency early.
“There is no reason for me to stick around longer,” she wrote shortly before leaving the group chat. “No one cares what I have to say and I have repeated felt disrespected and like my work has meant nothing.”
Internal communications obtained by The Crimson show that Kubba denied attempts by the new co-presidents to facilitate an official transition, including leaving a group chat in which Chen and Wu requested access to club bank accounts.
Still, Kubba was set to attend policy and summit trips with HUFPI that she had helped plan, such as a January summit co-hosted with the Sciences Po Policy Project — or SP3 — a student-run policy organization based at the Paris Institute of Political Studies.
In text messages obtained by The Crimson, Kubba created a group chat on Dec. 29 with Chen, Wu, and SP3 organizers to sort out what she called “a misunderstanding on the schedule,” appearing to take issue with the fact that she was set to speak after Chen.
“And this conference is funded by Harvard,” Kubba wrote. “We should be speaking first and I should be the one as I was the president who even CAME UP with the idea of fucking doing this shit.”
Kubba later created a separate group chat with Chen and Wu, where she told them she would not turn over HUFPI financial accounts and passwords until the schedule was changed.
“The bank account transfer nor any logins are happening until you fix the speech situation,” she wrote on Dec. 29. “I was promised and told one thing, deliver on it.”
Kubba wrote to the group chat with SP3 a few hours later, threatening to freeze funding to the summit over the speaking order. In texts, Kubba specifically questioned why she was slated to speak after SP3 President Louai Allani.
“Why do you get to speak twice Louai and why do you speak before me?” Kubba wrote in a string of texts obtained by The Crimson. “You bid to OUR program. Scratch that you bid to MY program.”
“The money in HUFPI is still under my name and I have no issue resolving this by freezing funding if you can’t honor me as your equal Louai,” she added.
Allani and other members of SP3 leadership did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The next day, Kubba wrote to the conference planning group chat that she should also be able to moderate discussions with former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a keynote speaker at the summit.
“I’ll remind you all that freezing funds is within my capacity,” Kubba added. “Takes me 2 mins.”
Emails between Kubba and HUFPI executives suggest Harvard administrators hesitated to directly involve themselves in the dispute over the nearly $30,000 transfer, instead proposing the two parties resolve their conflicts through the Harvard Ombuds Office.
The approach aligns with the College’s historically hands-off policy toward club finances, which it has maintained even following significant financial misdeeds.
In 1994, two Harvard undergrads were indicted after they stole more than $130,000 from a school-sponsored fundraiser to benefit cancer patients. One year later, a student was charged with pocketing more than $7,500 from the Currier House Committee.
“We’re not planning to change our policy if we can possibly avoid it,” then-Harvard College Dean Harry R. Lewis ’68 said after the cancer charity scandal. “The autonomy of the student organizations can be maintained.”
Administrators took a similar stance following the embezzlement of roughly $100,000 from the Hasty Pudding Theatricals in 2002, under the rationale that stringent monitoring would not prevent similar misconduct.
DSO administrator Meier said in a January interview that the body’s policies are intended to protect students from legal and reputational harm. They are not necessarily meant to be enforced by the DSO, which describes its staff as mediators or guides for student organizations rather than enforcers, Meier added.
“We’re really trying to help our students not to get into something that they can’t handle,” Meier said. “You can find yourself and your name in some significant challenges, and we really are doing this to protect the individuals and to help make it an easier process for them.”
Kubba described a “mental health crisis” following the initial accusation of financial misconduct she received from the HUFPI executive committee.
“My heart is broken after this,” Kubba wrote in a Jan. 7 email to HUFPI leadership. “I am broken after this.”
Corrections: March 3, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that John Kerry was the U.S. Secretary of Defense. In fact, Kerry was the U.S. Secretary of State.
A previous version of this article stated the incorrect class year for Nicholas J. Brennan ’23.
A previous version incorrectly listed the Harvard Debate Council as a student-run organization. In fact, though the club is an undergraduate student organization, its directors are not students.
A previous version of this article incorrectly referenced Irati Egorho Diez ’25 as “Diez.” In fact, her surname is Egorho Diez.
—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.
—Staff writer Sage S. Lattman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SageLattman.