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Sharma Duo Focuses on Big-Picture Issues

By Kristina B. Barrett and Maddie Sewani, Contributing Writers

UPDATED: Dec. 16, 2012, at 5:42 p.m.

At the Undergraduate Council presidential and vice presidential debate last week, running mates Akshay M. Sharma ’14 and Akanksha Sharma ’14 clarified to a smattering of chuckles: “We’re not related. We’re not dating. We’re not married.”

The two Sharmas are simply close friends who, they say, share a vision for the future of the Harvard community as well as a surname.

Akshay and Akanksha’s friendship began even before they came to Harvard, when they met at a college interview during their senior year of high school.

Since then, the two have come to share Cabot House as a home, performing arts as a passion, and mutual friends as supporters for their student government presidential campaign.

Michael J. Chilazi ’14, who has known Akshay and Akanksha since their freshman year, describes them as “those people that you come to Harvard to meet: students with unrelenting passion, genuine empathy, and big hopes.”

Those aspirations stand behind their campaign slogan, “Ignite”—a message meant to kindle excitement about an Undergraduate Council that “can and should do more.”

SPARKING SOCIAL LIFE

As the epicenter of student life at Harvard, student groups should interact more to foster a greater sense of community on campus, the Sharmas say.

To help, they propose creating an email list for group leaders and a forum for working together in person.

As a representative of the Phillips Brooks House Association said at the UC debate, the most pressing issue for these groups is often the acquisition of funds from the UC.

Akanksha attributes the funding difficulties that newly formed student organizations face to the complicated process of applying for grants online.

Maura D. Church ’14, a member of Speak Out Loud, a spoken word poetry organization that was officially established a year ago, agrees.

“It has been very difficult to put on events, get rooms reserved, and get support...because we have so little money,” she says in a Facebook message, adding that she supports the Sharmas’ campaign because she believes they will alleviate the problem—not to mention the fact that Akanksha is her roommate and she is in a long-term relationship with Akshay. “I believe Akshay and Akanksha have the experience and the fire in their bellies to get it done.”

To demystify the funding process, the Sharmas say they will hold office hours to teach student organizations how to use the grant portal.

Student organizations are also taxed by a lack of social space, says Akanksha, who played a large role in the creation of Cabot Café.

She says the key to turning new and underutilized spaces into valuable environments for socializing is to “get students to care about the space.” In the case of the café, that meant student involvement in the selection of food, music, and art.

To further ease social life on campus, Akshay and Akanksha say they will demand a more standardized and lenient party policy that allows for spontaneity.

“You shouldn’t have to register a party three days in advance. We are college students, and our party policy should reflect our lifestyle,” Akshay says.

PUTTING OUT FIRES

Beyond student groups, Akshay and Akanksha say they will take on a host of topical issues.

“Focusing on mental health, sexual health, safety—these are the things that the UC needs to be doing on a large leadership level, because these are the issues that really affect students,” Akshay says.

But their platform includes few concrete proposals for making the Council involved in these areas.

“There are a large number of issues that are messy and intangible, that don’t have a defined set of steps that you can take to fix them,” Akshay says.

“Those are the issues that we really want to tackle, because those are the issues that the UC has been avoiding.”

Supporter Rebecca J. Margolies ’13 says that the Sharmas’ dual priorities—supporting student social life and fostering well-being on campus—go hand in hand.

“This school can feel fragmented and lonely, and Akshay and Akanksha are dedicated to changing that, to making Harvard a place where everyone can feel welcome and belong,” says Margolies, a fellow Cabot resident who is also an inactive Crimson photographer.

That desire to make people feel at ease spreads to the Sharmas’ vision for the Council’s inner workings and its relationship with administrators.

Akshay says that as a UC representative since freshman year, he has noticed uncomfortable competition between UC representatives, something he hopes to tamp down.

He also says the relationship between the UC and the administration has historically been tense and adversarial.

During the debate, he commended current UC President and Vice President Danny P. Bicknell ’13 and Pratyusha Yalamanchi ’13 for taking steps to correct this approach.

Akshay said he would continue to build ties between the UC and the administration “so that they can work with us instead of working against us.”

While the Sharmas’ goals may be in some cases far from inflammatory, supporters believe that the ticket can accomplish its mission of cooling the flames of competition while heating up social life.

“When it comes to elections, and especially those of a collegiate nature, my major concern is that all tickets talk a lot of talk,” says Chilazi.

“My confidence in Akshay and Akanksha rests firmly in their commitment to the promises they make and the hopes they share. For them, winning the race is only day one.”

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