More than the Status Quo: Encouraging Diversity in the UC

This year has been a landmark one for achieving gender parity on the Undergraduate Council. Out of 90 candidate declarations, there were 45 male and 45 female declarations. This statistic represents a marked improvement from last year, when female candidates were only 35 percent of declared candidates. Due in part to several gender parity efforts undertaken by the UC and the Harvard College Women’s Center, female representation has doubled in the past two years. Females now represent 42 percent of the winning candidates in 2012, as compared to only 33 percent in 2011 and 23 percent in 2010. The UC is no longer skewed to one gender.

The recent Crimson editorial discussed gender disparity in student government and recommended that female students spend their time and skills more constructively outside an "ineffective" Undergraduate Council. The Crimson's suggestion that women should direct their efforts away from the most significant forum for student advocacy and funding on campus is surprising and misguided. Women's perspectives are invaluable to improving the Council and developing diverse leadership on campus.

The editorial's argument fails to consider that lack of diversity and female representation is a significant cause of persisting inadequacies in College governance. A council is only as good as its representatives, and we need dedicated men and women whose views are reflective of the student body.

Rather than abandoning efforts to reform or reinvigorate the UC, The Crimson should acknowledge strides taken to increase the diversity of UC membership. More female membership on the UC broadens the scope of ideas and leads to improved outcomes for a student body that is now more accurately represented.

In discouraging both men and women to run for elections, The Crimson also ignores successful UC initiatives that resulted in significant pressure on the administration and change at the College. In the past five years alone, UC advocacy resulted in sweeping reform of the Ad Board as well as the creation of five-week winter breaks, the College Events Board, and a new Ethnic Studies secondary field (incidentally, the last was accomplished under Andrea R. Flores, a female president of the UC).

Pre-professional organizations, student government, the sciences, and many on-campus publications need more female members to ameliorate underrepresentation of women. Similarly, female-dominated health and public service organizations would benefit from increased numbers of men in leadership. Real change happens when we step outside the boundaries of sex, gender, or race that society has laid out for us.

At the end of the day, college students must expect to interact with people of all genders in the workplace. Fixing gender disparities in the college sphere will have an impact on who we are and how we interact with others when we leave Harvard.  If we choose not to prioritize gender balance in college student governance, then we cannot expect it to improve after graduation, where it matters much more.

College is meant to inspire us during our years here and help to define our years post graduation. Equal representation not only increases an organization’s effectiveness, but is also an example of what we strive to create.

Danny P. Bicknell ’13, an Environmental Science and Public Policy concentrator in Mather House is President of the Undergraduate Council. Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13, a Human Evolutionary Biology concentrator with a secondary in Visual and Environmental Studies in Dunster House, is Vice-President of the Undergraduate Council. Nur N. Ibrahim ’13, a Literature concentrator in Winthrop House, is an intern at the Harvard College Women’s Center.

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