Last month, Sujean S. Lee ’03 appeared on national television in Korea after winning a landslide election for the Undergraduate Council presidency.
As her first semester at the council’s helm begins, some council members say she must return her attention to policy initiatives that better student life if she hopes to match the success of her predecessor, Paul A. Gusmorino ’02.
Gusmorino’s council, with Lee as its vice-president, focused on providing students with tangible services and negotiating with the College’s administration for policy changes that affect everyday student life.
Under Gusmorino’s leadership, the council’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC) fought successfully for later party hours and extended keycard access in Houses. The council also organized the first-annual Fallfest and continued services such as UCBooks and UCBoxes.
During this time, the Harvard Concert Commission (HCC) sold out two successive concerts.
Lee says that while she will continue many of Gusmorino’s battles and add a number of student services to her own list of accomplishments, she will also try to use the council to express the views of undergraduates on “political or controversial” issues to the administration.
Despite the deviation from Gusmorino’s goals, council members say that Lee’s extensive experience on the council, and that of her vice-president, immediate past treasurer Anne M. Fernandez ’03, should help her transition smoothly into her new role as council chief executive.
A Legacy of Services
Lee and Fernandez campaigned on a platform that proposed similar student service initiatives.
Lee, who co-founded the HCC, says one of her goals is to hold concerts in venues as large as Harvard Stadium or the Bright Hockey Center, a task Gusmorino deems “a real challenge.”
Lee says holding a concert in Harvard Stadium is difficult because it could bring up to 30,000 people to the stadium, causing security and traffic complications.
“The main problem is that the stadium has such a tremendous capacity that, for concerts at the stadium, we would have to ensure extremely extremely huge security measures and take into account traffic flow,” she says. “Just the size of the project is so huge that the administration is rightfully cautious.”
She says a concert at the Bright Hockey Center would be “more manageable” because of its smaller 5,000 person capacity size.
Justin A. Barkley ’02, former treasurer of the council, notes that the HCC must also be careful to choose bands that appeal to all students.
“When you start selecting bands, you have to make sure that you’re not selecting bands that appeal to only one segment,” he says.Uptown Girl
Another of Lee and Fernandez’s campaign promises was to provide students with subsidized tickets for weekend round-trip shuttles to New York City.
Lee says that the shuttles will start out at two buses each month and increase in frequency depending on student interest.
“We just had a trial run, and it was very successful,” Lee says.
She says she plans to model her proposal after recently established shuttles leaving from the Law School to New York.
Gusmorino says this project is “something they can definitely do.”
But Barkley says he wonders whether the shuttles will only appeal to a select group of students.
“That’s great for people like Sujean who love to go back and forth to New York,” Barkley says. “It seems like it will definitely serve a certain group of Harvard students much more than another group.”
Lee and Fernandez also addressed the current lack of student space during their campaign. They say they want to create more common areas where students can congregate, like the Quincy Grille.
“It’s always a struggle to find appropriate meeting space,” Lee says.
Lee and Fernandez say they want to create a centralized system through which students can call in and reserve rooms on campus.
Lee says the first step is a “broad sweeping examination of all the available space at Harvard.”
But Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71 says he sees scheduling difficulties with this plan.
“A centralized room reservation system would be quite difficult at Harvard, since so many different entities control the spaces,” Illingworth says. “Since not all the spaces are booked in the same way or even by the same offices, this idea, while a good one, remains problematic.”
Lee and Fernandez’s campaign posters also promoted the idea of outfitting all Houses and dorms for cable television—an innovation Fernandez calls difficult but possible.
“The administration has proven pretty receptive to the idea,” she says.
But Illingworth notes that installing cable television may be problematic.
“Cable television is expensive and most likely cumbersome in the administrative sense,” he says. “This is one of those issues which would take many discussions before resolution.”
One policy change Lee and Fernandez say they plan to suggest to the College’s administration is the creation of an “impartial advocate” for victims of sexual violence, an idea that has been discussed previously by the council.
According to Gusmorino, this individual would be responsible for campus policies and services pertaining to sexual assault and violence.
The council leadership claims that the creation of such a post would help students to deal with instances of sexual assault.
“It’s really daunting to approach a senior tutor with a problem like this,” Fernandez says.
Lee notes, however, that the procedure by which students report crimes of sexual violence will be hard to modify because “it deals with the [Administrative] Board.”
“They’re not as open to student input,” she says.
But according to Illingworth, the college already employs advisors who are “informed supporters of students who have experienced rape, sexual assault, or other forms of sexual misconduct.”
He says he is not sure what role an impartial advocate would play.
A Political Council
But Lee’s agenda moves beyond student services.
“I would really like to see the Undergraduate Council become involved in the most pressing, most controversial issues facing students,” she says.
Lee says the council has recently “shifted away from its other main goal, which is to serve as the student voice.”
Lee says she regrets not knowing how to speak for the student body when she was contacted by an ABC News reporter who asked her to comment on the recent controversy surrounding Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers and Fletcher University Professor Cornel West ’74.
She calls the council “a legitimate body for voicing student opinion to the administration and others.”
Some council members have long viewed the body as the public voice of Harvard students, drafting bills such as one last year that encouraged environmentally friendly investing. But more conservative council members have long believed that bills with political themes fell beyond the council’s scope.
Barkley says that addressing controversial issues can be dangerous for the council.
“It tends to divide the council in a negative way,” he says. “It tends to strain people’s friendships.” Barkley says he remembers a time when issues such as whether dining hall should serve grapes farmed by migrant workers dominated the council’s docket.
“When you delve into these political issues, people are going to start yelling at each other again,” he says.
But Lee says she would like to use some council meeting time to discuss the presence of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) on campus.
Lee says she would also like to address environmental waste at Harvard.
“It’s kind of a political thing, but it affects students’ lives,” Fernandez says. But council member Brian R. Smith ‘02 says Lee and Fernandez should focus on continuing Gusmorino’s student services success rather than working to expand the council’s scope.
“The biggest challenge is to keep the council at the level of performance that it was under Paul,” Smith says. “Sujean and Annie have the ability to keep it at that level.”
Transfer of Power
Though Lee faces high expectations and questions about her vision for the scope of council policy, most council members say she should experience little difficulty taking over the top job.
“Sujean is going in already having a large learning curve,” Gusmorino says, referring to Lee’s tenure as council vice-president and, before that, Campus Life Committee (CLC) chair.
SAC Chair Rohit Chopra ’04 says Lee’s extensive council experience may be her most valuable asset.
More importantly, Chopra says, Gusmorino has left such a positive legacy in the area of student services that Lee has the luxury to ponder more broadly the council’s place in the University.
“Paul’s mission was to clean up and regain the trust of students and the administration,” Chopra says. “Sujean’s charge is really to move more to the bigger picture. What Sujean has to do is go for far-reaching effectual change.”
—Staff writer Claire A. Pasternack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.