Undergrads Stress Public Service and Accessibility at Faust Forum

UC Forum
Undergraduate Council leaders Ava Nasrollahzadeh '16 and Dhruv P. Goyal '16 hold an open forum with President Drew G. Faust and Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana Tuesday night. Students spoke about a range of issues, including campus diversity and inclusion, accessibility for disabled students, and funding for summer and post-graduate public service opportunities.

UPDATED: March 25, 2015, at 4:13 a.m.

In an open forum organized by the Undergraduate Council with University President Drew G. Faust and Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana on Tuesday, undergraduates focused their questions on funding opportunities for jobs and internships in public service, accessibility of the upperclassman Houses, and inclusivity of campus social spaces.

Several students asked Khurana and Faust about perceived hurdles they see in pursuing an internship in public service, including a summer earnings contribution expectation from the financial aid office.

“We’re very aware, as we try to enhance the opportunities for public service, of [the summer contribution] constraint and of the barrier it can pose for students who are on financial aid,” Faust said. “But I think we would like to choose to address it by resolving that barrier rather than by changing our financial aid program.”

Faust promoted the University’s presidential public service fellowship program and hinted at a new initiative that could be funded by an alumnus considering a “significant gift” directed to public service.

Kunho Kim ’17 and Brad I. Riew ’17 raised a question at the forum about inaccessibility on Harvard’s campus, which Faust regarded as at times “antique” and “inhospitable.”

Specifically, Kim and Riew expressed their concern and frustration that only four out of 12 upperclassman dining halls are fully accessible to disabled students. While students can request location changes when met with unaccessible venues, this is tedious and unrealistic, Kim and Riew said.

UC Forum
College student Kunho Kim '17 speaks to President Faust and Dean Khurana about the lack of accessibility for disabled students on campus. Kim was one of many students to voice concerns about true inclusion for all members of the Harvard community during the forum.

“It’s hard to [take ownership of spaces] when you can’t enter the spaces,” Riew said. “We understand that the University is admirably trying to do House renovations that will make the College more accessible, but that’s a process that will take place over many years.”

In response, Faust personally invited Kim, Riew, and all other students concerned about accessibility to her office to discuss strategies towards making the campus more accessible on a short-term basis.

Khurana personally apologized to the students, and expressed his belief that all campus spaces should feel accessible, as opposed to “cornered off.”

“We’ll do our best to make sure that you never have to feel that way, or that anyone feels that way,” Khurana said. “Everybody on this campus belongs here, and should feel like this is their place.”

Undergraduate Council representatives William Oh ’18 and Happy Yang ’16, who also attended the forum, suggested the idea of allocating space in the Smith Campus Center for various student organizations, such as the Women's Center and Office of BGLTQ Student Life.

Oh said that the current basement locations for these organizations are “inaccessible, at least symbolically.”

Council representative Shaiba Rather ’17 raised a concern that the campus center would not serve as an appropriate social space for undergraduates. As currently planned, the center will accommodate all students, staff, and faculty at the University.

Khurana pointed to common spaces within the Houses as more viable social hubs for students at the College, while Faust said she expects primarily undergraduates to use the campus center after 8 p.m.

—Staff writer Jalin P. Cunningham can be reached at jalin.cunningham@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JalinCunningham.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at theodore.delwiche@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @trdelwic.

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