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Standing in Tercentenary Theatre on a bright autumn day, Undergraduate Council presidential candidate Tara Raghuveer ’14 gazes straight into the camera as she declares, “It’s the UC’s imperative to start asking students what they want.”
Were it not for Widener Library in the background, it might be easy to mistake Raghuveer’s polished campaign video—which features originally composed music and carefully scripted appeals—for one of the political ads that flooded the airwaves this election season.
Raghuveer’s spot is indicative of the tightly executed campaign that she and her vice presidential running mate Jen Q. Y. Zhu ’14 have led since they began preparing for the race in early September.
As of Friday, the two UC insiders had recruited a core team of 20 members, an official staff list of about 70 people, and an unofficial list of about 220 campaign volunteers. And, they say, their campaign team continues to grow every day.
As they face off against three other tickets, Raghuveer and Zhu are hoping that their organized campaign, diverse experience, and promise to make the UC more relevant will be enough to win them the election. If they succeed, the UC will be run by two women for the first time in four years.
FROM PREFROSH TO THE PODIUM
Sitting side-by-side in Cafe Gato Rojo, Raghuveer and Zhu have an easy chemistry that they say dates back to their first meeting during pre-frosh weekend in 2010.
Raghuveer, who sports thick-framed glasses that take up half her face, speaks with confidence, sometimes deferring to Zhu as they discuss their platform.
In turn, Zhu, who maintains a constant smile even while talking, credits Raghuveer for frequently making her laugh.
Raghuveer and Zhu say that their friendship has been solidified by serving together on the UC, working into the late hours of the night studying statistics, and participating in the Institute of Politics’s Women’s Initiative in Leadership program.
But the two women also emphasize the diverse personal backgrounds and achievements they bring to the ticket.
Raghuveer, a social studies concentrator living in Currier, says she is most proud of her student advocacy work.
After joining the UC in her sophomore year, Raghuveer lobbied representatives of the Harvard Management Company to speak directly to students at a town hall event last spring.
For her part, Zhu—a Quincy resident, pre-med student, and joint concentrator in government and sociology—emphasizes her achievements in data collection.
A UC representative since her freshman year, Zhu created a mid-year survey that was sent out to students to solicit suggestions and to increase awareness of UC initiatives.
Raghuveer says that she and Zhu spent a full five weeks debating ideas before they settled on their final campaign platform: making the UC more relevant to students’ lives.
The duo points to last year’s UC presidential election—which saw a voter turnout of just over 40 percent—as indicative of student apathy toward the UC.
Raghuveer and Zhu say that their slogan, “Demand Relevance,” reflects their desire to find ways to make the UC matter in the Harvard community.
“We use the word ‘relevance’ instead of ‘action’ because we can’t act as a body without being relevant here,” Raghuveer says.
As part of their proposed reforms, they plan to combat what they describe as a culture of speculation on the UC, in which representatives have little actual knowledge of student concerns.
To this extent, they have proposed a new initiative called “Harvard Thinks, Harvard Changes,” which would add referendum questions to the start-of-semester registration tool and the end-of-semester Q Guide to give students a forum to voice their suggestions.
Campaign supporters say that the ticket’s emphasis on relevance is a winning platform.
Kemie U. Iko ’14, Raghuveer’s blockmate, says that she had little interest in the UC before Raghuveer and Zhu began their campaign.
“Not only do they have big picture ideals, but they also give concrete examples of how the UC can make a change, which is important for me as someone not very invested in the UC,” Iko says.
LADIES WHO RULE
Following this fall’s election, 42 percent of UC representatives are female.
Despite this progress, Raghuveer and Zhu represent the first all-female presidential ticket in four years—a distinction that Raghuveer recently noted by publishing a Spotify playlist titled “ladies who rule” in honor of the campaign.
The duo says they have the experience to continue making the UC a more welcoming place for women.
Zhu, who was the only female UC representative from her freshman class, led information sessions and campaign workshops for aspiring UC representatives this fall to encourage greater gender equality on the Council.
“There is still so much work to do in that department and we want to be leading that change,” Zhu says.
But though Raghuveer is proud of her all-female ticket, she says she does not want students to vote for her and Zhu simply because they are women.
“We want people to vote for us because we have the best ideas, we are the best ticket, and we happen to be females,” Raghuveer says. “That is the vision we have for female leadership at Harvard and beyond.”
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