For the first time in six years, Harvard College students will vote on more than their favorite Undergraduate Council leaders in the upcoming UC election. This year’s UC ballot will feature three referenda on some of the College’s most hotly debated questions: University sexual assault policy, divestment from fossil fuels, and University absorption of the Fair Harvard Fund, a social choice fund developed by students last year. Unlike previous years’ ballots, which merely required students to make the largely inconsequential choice between presidential and vice presidential contenders, this year’s ballot invites undergraduates to make their voices heard on issues that matter.
Importantly, all three of this year’s referenda have made it onto the ballot thanks to the hard, determined work of student activists. Harvard has a storied history of inspiring student activism: Student-organized campaigns have compelled Harvard to make important changes in its labor practices and expand resources for women. There is little doubt that activism has done much to steer the University forward, and the work of contemporary student activists ought to be commended in the same regard. The U.C. should encourage more of this sort of grassroots involvement in the governance of student life on campus.
The proposed sexual assault policy changes warrant the most urgent attention of these questions. The long-overdue proposals of Kate Sim ’14 and Pearl Bhatnagar ’14 include suggested changes that would drastically increase the power of students in combating assault. Specifically, they reframe sexual assault policy to reflect affirmative consent and call for increased administration transparency with federal law enforcement.
Moreover, the referendum proposes crucial increases in specificity and clarity in the wording of sexual assault policies. These include revising the “mental incapacitation” phrase to more clearly refer to the point at which someone is unable to consent under the influence, as well as using language inclusive of LGBTQ-identifying students.
Many of these policy changes have already been instituted at fellow universities, and the recent occurrence of two stranger rapes at Harvard makes their arrival to our campus tardy. Due to the urgent need for such changes to be implemented, all students should vote for the sexual assault policy referendum during the fall elections. In addition, the Undergraduate Council should continue to publicize the process by which students can propose petitions for referenda of their own. With an amplified voice for the student body, we are confident the most crucial issues on our campus can be solved.