Last week, a video appeared on the Harvard College Women’s Center’s youtube feed responding to the existence of a gender imbalance in undergraduate leadership at Harvard. The video features Undergraduate Council Vice President Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13 encouraging women at Harvard to run for spots on the council, where women make up only 35 percent of the elected body. As we have often said before, our campus urgently needs to increase female presence and gender parity in student leadership. We welcome any attempt to increase female representation in the UC, but must caution aspiring student leaders that truly effective change on campus may be best enacted outside of that unwieldy bureaucracy.
Achieving gender parity in student leadership is important for numerous reasons, not least of which is the negative impact that a lack of female role models and representation can have on future attempts for women to become leaders in political and corporate life. Women make up only 17 percent of Congress and only 16 percent of upper level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. This needs to change, and creating gender parity in college student leadership is an ideal place to start. As such, we admire Yalamanchi’s recent attempt to encourage greater female participation in the UC.
That said, we must caution any who run for the UC to be aware that they are entering a failed institution and we advise them to seek leadership roles elsewhere on campus. We believe that both men and women can affect far greater change on Harvard’s campus outside of the UC’s futile sub-committee meetings. We admire the organization’s intentions to change the nature of social space at Harvard, and to engage with the college administration—but its nearly complete lack of follow-through forces us to repeat what we have said before: the work of almost every committee on the UC would be better served if it were to be done outside of that legislative body.
For inspiring leadership, we need only look to our dining halls. Perhaps the most noticeable changes on campus this past year owe their origin not to the UC, but to student organizations like the Sustainable Food Project and to independent student activism. This is change we can believe in.
Indeed, in its current form, the UC is simultaneously ineffective and a reminder of the inequality of women in leadership. All students ought to continue pursuing gender parity in student leadership—but to focus their hard work somewhere outside of the UC, in organizations that bear fruit like the Harvard College Women’s Center and others like it that have done much to spur awareness and debate around these important issues.