The tone is light as Eduardo A. Gonzalez ’18 and Alex Popovski ’19 sit down for an interview about their candidacy to lead the Undergraduate Council.
The two met on a UC retreat in fall 2015, initially bonding over a shared taste in music: they listened to tracks from Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Fetty Wap on the bus.
However, it was only after finding out they shared roots—both Gonzalez and Popovski hail from southern California—that they became close.
“I knew that this was a keeper friend right here,” Popovski said of Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, the ticket’s presidential candidate, is a junior in Mather House concentrating in Social Studies. Popovski, running for UC Vice President, is a sophomore in Dunster House who plans on concentrating in Economics.
Though friends and supporters have many stories to tell about the duo, three adjectives in particular were their most common descriptors: genuine, enthusiastic, and caring.
“[Gonzalez] was always the one who would be amping everyone up, making everyone laugh, and getting everyone excited,” said Emily Corrigan ’19, one of Gonzalez’s teammates on Mather’s intramural soccer team.
“He brings that level of energy to everything he does,” she added.
Nicholas Whittaker ’19, a fellow UC representative and friend of both candidates, said Popovski “has the biggest heart of anyone. He just cares so much about everyone and everything.”
Outside of the classroom and Council, the candidates remain involved on campus. Gonzalez participates in Fuerza Latina, a Latino student group. Popovski, meanwhile, consults for the TAMID Group, a consulting and finance organization that focuses on Israeli business.
However, both Popovski and Gonzalez said the UC remains their primary focus on campus.
“I’ve made all of my closest relationships at school on the UC,” Gonzalez said. “I go to all of the UC-sponsored social events because that’s my social life, and it’s dope.”
Both candidates have served on the Council since their first years at Harvard.
“You mean there’s more to life at Harvard than the UC?” Popovski joked.
The ticket, running on a platform with the campaign slogan “Our Harvard,” say they hope to make campus more inclusive and its resources more accessible for all if elected to the top of Harvard College’s student government.
The first tenet of Gonzalez and Popovski’s three-pronged platform advocates for the better use of existing social spaces on campus. The candidates said they hope to lessen the burden of hosting parties as a way to “empower students” with social experiences generated by students, and not College administrators.
For first-year students, Gonzalez and Popovski say they want to make common rooms readily available to book for parties. For upperclassmen, they want to institutionalize “fast track” party registration that lets students notify their Houses of dorm room parties with shorter notice.
Their plans come at a time when the College has pushed to promote more campus social events for students. Some Houses like Mather and Cabot already have instituted similar expedited party registration systems, and designated party spaces on campus such as Adams House’s Molotov have recently been opened to host social gatherings.
Both Gonzalez and Popovski have worked within the UC to open private Harvard Square business as social venues for students. The Council’s current leaders, UC President Shaiba Rather ’17 and Vice President Danny V. Banks ’17 spearheaded “Club 1636,” which hosted undergraduates at Felipe’s Taqueria, the Hong Kong restaurant, and Tasty Burger.
According to Madeleine H. Stern ’18, the ticket’s campaign manager, Gonzalez and Popovski worked with Rather and Banks to organize one of the events.
“Their dedication to ensuring the success of the event, and by extension that every student who showed up felt welcome there, was contagious,” Stern said.
In recent years, College administrators led by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana have stepped up their involvement in undergraduate social life. Specifically, Khurana has called unrecognized single-gender social organizations such as final clubs at odds with the College’s values, and in May, he and University President Drew G. Faust put forth sanctions barring students who join these groups from athletic team captaincies and College endorsement for top fellowships like the Rhodes.
Gonzalez and Popovski have voiced “conditional” support of the sanctions, which will go into effect starting with next year’s Class of 2021.
“We recognize that in the lead up to the announcement of the sanctions there was a severe lack of student voice being represented in those talks and those decisions,” Gonzalez said, adding that he and his running mate are both in favor of the sanctions’ ultimate goal of gender equity.
“[Popovski] and I agree ideologically that gender equity… is the place we want to take our Harvard in the future,” Gonzalez said.
Nevertheless, much like other UC leadership tickets, Popovski added that he and Gonzalez want to avoid “vilifying” students who participate in the soon-to-be sanctioned groups.
Earlier this semester, the College announced the membership of a committee to implement the sanctions. Although the committee counts 20 undergraduates in its ranks, Gonzalez and Popovski want to establish an additional “standing committee” to oversee enforcement.
In the second part of their platform, Gonzalez and Popovski say they want to prioritize students’ mental and sexual health. In both arenas, their platform looks to place trained mental health and sexual assault prevention liaisons in closer contact with students.
Specifically, Gonzalez and Popovksi call for more professional counselors and peer counselors to be stationed at each upperclassman House. Their platform suggests giving Harvard University Health Services’ mental health clinicians non-residential tutor privileges—and therefore dining hall access—in the 12 residential Houses.
Gonzalez also said he sees a need for more student mental health counselors, and hopes to make it easier for low income students to fill those roles. Specifically, Gonzalez said he thinks peer counseling positions at Harvard should fulfill work study requirements for students on financial aid.
As for sexual health, the ticket says they recognize that preventing sexual assault will likely require a campus-wide shift in culture. Their proposals come at a time during which the University administration has implemented new measures aimed at curtailing sexual assault, in light of a 2015 survey that revealed a sexual assault climate Faust described as “deeply disturbing.”
This fall, for instance, the College launched an online training program, required for all students, which aims to inform students of campus-wide resources for sexual assault victims and educate students on Harvard’s own policies. The UC more generally has also pushed for anti-sexual assault education—its Finance Committee decided last semester to mandate sexual assault prevention trainings for clubs requesting high levels of funding from the Council.
Gonzalez points to personnel changes within Houses as a way to shift Harvard’s culture towards healthier sexual conduct.
The ticket's platform suggests placing Consent Advocates and Relationship Educators peer tutors in Houses to supplement current Sexual Assault and Sexual Health tutors’ programming.
“We advocate for the institutionalization of at least two student CARE peer counselors in every House, just the same way that every House right now has a funded, institutionalized Resource Efficiency Program representative and a Food Literacy Project representative,” Gonzalez said.
On the whole, Popovski and Gonzalez said they think all undergraduates could benefit from more campus-wide conversations on healthy sexual conduct, similar to the way freshmen attend sexual assault prevention trainings before fall classes begin.
“[Popovski] and I will not end sexual assault at Harvard or in America, but what we can do is take concrete steps within our own community here at Harvard to continue with a cultural change,” Gonzalez said.
Following a year of increased activism over race relations across the University, Gonzalez and Popovski’s platform also seeks to make the College more inclusive for students of all backgrounds and identities.
For both candidates, celebrating diversity has been important in their lives at school and away from campus. Gonzalez, the child of two immigrant women, is the only student to ever attend Harvard from his high school, and Popovski lived in Israel for seven years.
“Our campaign is about empowering diverse student experiences,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez and Popovski’s platform proposes creating a campus multicultural center, a common request by students and cultural groups. Harvard administrators and students have discussed building a center since at least the 1990s.
The two suggest repurposing a floor of the Student Organization Center at Hilles into a space for their proposed center. They say that as the Smith Campus Center is renovated, offices currently in the SOCH will move closer to the Yard, freeing up the building.
The candidates have also pledged to reach out to cultural groups on campus, asking leaders of the groups to attend and speak at UC general meetings.
“Right now we don’t proactively reach out to underrepresented groups; it’s more of them coming to us,” Gonzalez said. “In order for us to be a representative student body, we need to proactively go out to those groups.”
According to the candidates, their past experiences make them “the strongest ticket when talking about issues of diversity.”
“We’re bringing diversity to the forefront of an institution that’s historically been defined by white, straight, Protestant men, and we are not all of those identities,” Gonzalez said. “We recognize the extreme importance of having diverse voices brought to the table.”
As their interview draws to a close, Gonzalez and Popovski’s initially more casual tone has shifted to a serious and determined one. Repeatedly, the ticket has emphasized tangibility and deliverability on issues at the center of Harvard students’ lives.
“Everyone has the same goals, but [Popovski] and I have the ideas to make them happen,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve got tangible proposals to the issues that everyone cares about, and we’ve got the strength of character to carry it through.”
At a debate with the election’s three other tickets, Gonzalez described his plans for UC leadership as a “mission,” which he hopes will bring Harvard’s thousands of undergraduates together.
Speaking to what distinguishes them from other tickets, they cited their unique approaches to solving common issues on campus, again referencing their campaign slogan.
“That’s why our slogan is ‘Our Harvard’, and that’s why when we talk about [the] campaign, we talk about our spaces, our health, our experiences,” Gonzalez said at the debate Friday evening.
Popovski added: “No matter where you come from, no matter your financial status or who you know, you should have a support group at Harvard, you should have a community, a home at Harvard.”
Voting in this year’s UC presidential election begins Monday, Nov. 14, and lasts until Thursday, Nov. 17.