Petersen and Sundquist: Experience Fighting for Students

Kathleen E. Breeden

What sets Ryan A. Petersen ‘08 and Matt L. Sundquist ‘09 apart from our collective experience with Undergraduate Council (UC) candidates is their demonstrated focus on and dedication to student issues. For years we’ve heard plenty of talk about UC restructuring, and we’ve heard plenty of pie-in-the-sky dreams about the UC changing the world. Finally, we have found two candidates who are talking realistically and concretely about students.

For Ryan and Matt, a self-absorbed UC just won’t cut it because the more the UC focuses on its internal affairs, the less it can do to affect students’ daily lives. While the rest of the UC was busy talking about Robert’s Rules of Order, section 62.35, bylaws, institutions, organizational growth, and optimization models, we saw Ryan reaching out to students. He didn’t speculate or make assumptions­—instead, he did his research, asking students what they wanted and needed from their UC, and then immediately went to work.

And over the course of the last two years, he has continuously delivered. Ryan played the leading role in bringing us the Lamont Café this fall after co-writing the bill that brought us a 24-hour Lamont. He went to bat for gender inclusiveness on our campus, finally getting gender identity added to the University’s nondiscrimination code. As one of only two students serving on the Task Force on General Education, he helped shape a new general education proposal to save future generations of Harvard students from the Core. He has staunchly defended student groups, earning group leaders a meeting with the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences earlier this month to further the fight against the student group tax. Ryan’s advocacy not only represents students but also creates opportunities for students to represent themselves. Indeed, Ryan was instrumental in securing seats for undergraduates on both the Presidential and Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Search Committees.

Ryan takes on the real issues facing students, even those without easy solutions. We would know—as UC vice president, a former President of the Harvard Democrats, and a member of the Student Affairs Committee that Ryan leads, we have seen Ryan stick with challenging projects and continue fighting for students when everyone else had given up time and time again. We trust no undergraduate more to guarantee that the UC is putting the students it is meant to serve front and center in all that it does.

Ryan’s success is by no means haphazard; he has an exceptional ability to inspire those working with him to collaborate and give their all to a project. Ryan’s mantra seems quite simple to us: people matter. Ryan is the kind of person who makes certain that everyone he works with knows how valuable and appreciated their contributions are. Whether you find him in a dining hall late at night (on his second or third Brain Break run) or on his way to a breakfast meeting long before classes begin, he always stops to say hello and ask how your midterm went or what your plans are for the weekend. For Ryan, friendship and leadership are so inextricably bound that it is easy to see why he has become so dedicated to serving his peers and is so respected by them as a leader. These intangibles distinguish him as a candidate.

In his search for concrete solutions to real student problems, Ryan has found a perfect teammate in Matt Sundquist. As far as we know, Matt smiles more than anyone else at Harvard; he can’t seem to help this outward manifestation of his optimistic, never-say-never attitude. Meeting him for the first time is a completely disarming experience. Down-to-earth and relaxed, he effortlessly transitions conversation from Smash Brothers to Kantian ethics. Talk to any one of his freshmen peer advisees, and they will tell you how compassionate he is; talk to anyone on his Dorm Crew team, and they will tell you how much he motivates his peers. Talk to just about anyone who has met him, and they’ll tell you how approachable he is.

On top of an infectious personality, Matt puts improving student life first. He often talks with an advisee until the wee hours of the morning despite having a paper due the next day. Because of Matt’s prolific work in just one year on the UC, upperclassmen can swipe into Yard dorms, and there are now free condom boxes in freshmen laundry rooms. Matt is never looking for credit and enthusiastically tackles the less glamorous issues because he knows they are important.

Ryan and Matt will improve student’s lives in everyday ways and never shirk from concrete solutions to big, abstract problems. We are confident they will deliver on their priorities to synchronize Harvard time with real time, reforming our exam schedule and giving us a more reasonable, sensible academic calendar. They will give students new outlets to improve teaching, like an anonymous email address for making complaints about lackluster teaching: TF@harvard.edu. They will ensure that student groups receive funding through a fair, transparent, and timely process. They will improve the quality of Quad life by pushing for a 24-hour library and more frequent shuttle service. Most importantly, they will continue listening to students ask tough questions, and then keep coming forward with practical answers.

For us to say that Ryan and Matt will work tirelessly to improve students’ lives on campus is not a hopeful projection for the future. They are already doing it, and they possess the leadership qualities to shift the UC’s priority to students,where it should be. It’s about time we saw that in our UC president and vice president.

Annie R. Riley ’07 is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House and vice president of the UC. Eric P. Lesser ’07 is a government concentrator in Kirkland House and former president of the Harvard Democrats. Nworah B. Ayogu ’10 lives in Weld Hall and is a UC representative for South Yard.



A FEW QUESTIONS FOR RYAN AND MATT

IF you could do one thing as UC president what would it be?
Change teaching fellow training and reform the calendar

What is the most important quality you will bring to the office?
Good listening skills—we hear students’ concerns and then work to address them

What has been the UC’s greatest recent success?
Reforming the UC’s structure so it can focus on advocacy and student group funding

What has been the UC’s greatest recent failure?
Letting petty politicking overtake real change

What is your favorite dining hall food?
Golden Nuggets - they’re transfat free!