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An unprecedented number of voters turned out for last week’s Institute of Politics (IOP) elections, choosing candidates that plan to work more closely with Harvard’s campus groups while continuing the national outreach program the IOP began last year.
Around 110 students squeezed into Littauer 150 at the Kennedy School of Government last Thursday, with about an additional 30 students voting by absentee ballot, according to outgoing IOP Treasurer Emily L. Nielson ’04.
IOP members elected Ilan T. Graff ’05 as president and Naomi M. Ages ’05 as vice-president.
Graff and Ages said they will focus on encouraging campus groups to use civic engagement as a means of activism.
“We want to see a changed relationship with the campus, breaking down barriers to involvement and increased partnerships with anyone who sees politics as a way to make a positive difference,” Graff said.
This is only the fourth time the IOP has elected its president. Before, the executive was selected by the Student Advisory Committee (SAC), not the IOP as a whole, explained outgoing IOP President Peter P. Buttigieg ’04.
Graff and Ages defeated the ticket of Brian M. Goldsmith ’05 and Jonathan S. Chavez ’05.
Chavez and Goldsmith said they plan to remain involved in the IOP, but noted that they harbored a different vision for the organization’s future.
“We thought the IOP needed a better sense of membership, a more defined understanding of what it is to be a member,” Chavez said. “Membership of the IOP means nothing right now.”
But Buttigieg said he is confident that the new president, vice president and treasurer of the organization will be strong leaders.
“They have lots of exciting new ideas and the energy to see it through,” he said.
Fast Forward to the Future
The new executives said they have ambitious goals in the year ahead.
Graff cited two main outreach focuses for next year.
He said he hopes to help forge partnerships with other campus groups—such as Harvard Right to Life and Harvard Students for Choice—to inspire them to use politics as a way of addressing and solving their concerns.
“We can be a powerful focal point for political activity by engaging people who are passionate about politics but have not had the opportunity to intersect with the IOP,” he said.
The executive team will also focus on bringing the IOP to the larger Harvard community, in an effort to “break down as many of the perceived barriers as possible,” Graff said.
They hope to hold bi-weekly “town hall meetings” to discuss current IOP projects and solicit feedback from students, he said.
“It’s an election year and people are fired up about it,” Graff said.
“And we want to channel that,” Ages added, finishing her running mate’s sentence.
The IOP elections took place nearly two weeks after a group of students on an IOP-funded trip to Miami were arrested at protests against the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and Graff and Ages said that creating a policy regarding the IOP’s relationship to protests and similar forms of advocacy is an important priority.
“The IOP is a non-partisan organization which supports politics as a tool. But when we support people advocating specific stances, we lose our ability to advocate for politics in general,” Graff said. “We want to codify this for future reference so we know where to stand.”
The IOP is sponsoring a working group, open to any Harvard undergraduate, to help develop this policy.
While Graff and Ages are concerned with political engagement on campus, they said they have not forgotten the IOP’s announcement last January of plans to expand Harvard programs on a national scale in an attempt to increase youth involvement in politics.
Graff said he has the “luxury” of focusing on improving political engagement on Harvard’s own campus, since last year’s IOP leadership laid the groundwork for the national campaign.
Ages, who will serve as the co-chair for the national campaign, promised that an internal focus “won’t come at the expense of the other.”
Others elected include Treasurer Guillermo A. Coronado ’05, Community Action Chair Lauren S. Kuley ’06, Conferences Chair Tara M. Fisher ’06, Study Groups Chair Elise Stefanik ’06, Fellows Chair David M. Kaden ’06, National Campaign Chair Leslie V. Pope ’06, Projects Chair Elizabeth A. Goldschmidt ’06, Outreach Chair Mark C. Beatty ’06, Forum Chair John H. Jernigan ’06, Harvard Political Union Chair Daniel A. Dunay ’06 and Internships Chair Paloma A. Zepeda ’06. The Refugee Crisis policy group will be lead by Jody M. Kelman ’05, Social Security by Brad M. Smith ’05 and Campus Diversity by Danny F. Yagan ’06.
—Staff writer Faryl W. Ury can be reached at email@example.com
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