UC Votes to Form 'Identity Coalition'

UC General Meeting
Members of the Undergraduate Council listen on as Yousra Neberai ’18 (right), Victor C. Agbafe ’19 (center), and Nicholas Whittaker ’19 (left) announce the formation of an identity coalition to advise the UC on matters concerning “underrepresented minorities and marginalized communities.”
The Undergraduate Council voted to form an “identity coalition” at its general meeting Sunday and create an avenue for minority students to communicate with the Council and administration, fulfilling a campaign promise made by its leaders.

The identity coalition, spearheaded by UC President Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 and UC Vice President Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18, will operate in partnership with the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations’ Student Advisory Committee.

Although UC representatives did not detail in the legislation specific student populations that will be represented in the body, Sachee and Khansarinia have said they see the group as an outlet for students of color, first-generation students, and BGLTQ students. Legislation proposing the identity coalition said it will represent the College’s “underrepresented minorities and marginalized communities.”

The Council voted unanimously to create the identity coalition.

Dylan R. de Waart ’19 and Yousra Neberai ’18, two co-chairs of the Harvard Foundation’s Student Advisory Committee, spoke at the meeting to address UC members’ questions about the prospective partnership between groups. After the meeting, de Waart said he was excited to see the cooperation between the UC and its partners.

“This partnership between the Harvard Foundation SAC and the Undergraduate Council marks a new chapter in student issues advocacy on campus—integrating affinity groups, the administration, the Harvard Foundation, and the Undergraduate Council,” he said.

Cabot House representative Christopher B. Cruz ’17 proposed an amendment to the legislation to ensure that groups without members in the coalition will still receive resources and support from the UC.

“If a group is not part of the coalition, we’re not going to exclude them from...being able to speak, getting connections to the administration,” he said at the meeting. “I think it should be a duty of ours to be as inclusive and welcoming to any groups that want to be connected to those resources, whether or not they choose to join the identity coalition.

Earlier in the meeting, Javier Cuan-Martinez, representing the Harvard Computer Society, addressed some students’ concerns that Datamatch—an algorithm meant to connect students on Valentine’s Day— reinforced a gender binary by forcing students to check a box with “male” or “female.”

Currently, though, students may elaborate on their gender identity in a text box below. Martinez said he empathized with students’ concerns and apologized at the meeting.

“I, on behalf of the Harvard Computer Society and on Datamatch, take full responsibility for the exclusion that we have created on campus,” Martinez said. “It was a poor design decision and we look forward to working with all the organizations and making sure that Datamatch is as inclusive as possible in the future.”

Adams House representative Nicholas Whittaker ’19 proposed signing a letter from Council members admonishing Datamatch and its binary gender options. After the meeting, Whittaker collected signatures from fellow UC representatives for the cause.

The UC has previously partnered with Datamatch to help fund dates to local eateries in the Square.

“I’m proposing an undersigned letter, a statement of support with the gender non-conforming and gender queer community after Datamatch implicitly excluded them from the experience,” Whittaker said.

—Staff writer Andrew J. Zucker can be reached at andrew.zucker@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJZucker.

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