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Raise Your Voice

By Danny P. Bicknell, Tara Raghuveer, and Pratyusha Yalamanchi

For students, navigating Harvard's decentralized waters can be a challenge. From reserving rooms to applying for organization grants to determining which administrator may be able to address your student group's concern, there seems to be a convoluted process and opaque leadership structure within each University body. Advocates, activists, and academics who seek solutions to pressing issues often find themselves expressing disjointed islands of voices that fail to reach the relevant bodies and affect change.

Simply put, Harvard is a complex place.

It is time to provide a forum for student voice on Harvard's campus and to bridge the gap between students and administrators. Through a number of initiatives that seek to address administrator accountability and better connect the Undergraduate Council to its constituents, we hope to institutionalize a means of communication and student voice on campus. In that endeavor, we ask for your involvement and support.

As per Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds’ recommendation, the College formed a Task Force on Student Voice this semester. Composed of students, faculty, and administrators, the task force seeks to investigate and address communications issues between these bodies.

As the committee problem-solves, we ask you to share your thoughts about the values that should guide student involvement in College matters via the dinner focus groups this week or the online comment box. Specifically, how can communication be improved among College administrators, faculty, student leaders, and students at large? What are the best ways for administrators to get student input on a variety of issues?

It is important for student leaders to understand the governance structures of Harvard College, FAS, and Harvard University in order to most effectively engage with our campus about student life issues. Rather than taking on an adversarial approach, we want to establish relationships between students and administrators in both formal and informal settings to facilitate effective communication.

Thanks to recently established bi-weekly/monthly Office of Student Life office hours, students can now drop into University Hall with their concerns without scheduling an appointment several weeks in advance.

As the first of our "Meet the Deans" luncheon series, the UC hosted a student-admin lunch this past week in Lowell Small Dining Room with Mike Smith, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Thomas A. Dingman ’67, Dean of Freshman, Dean Joshua G. McIntosh, Dean Emelyn A. Dela Pena, and Dean David R. Friedrich of OSL. Twenty students, who signed up via the UC Weekly e-mail circulated to all of the House and Dorm lists and on the UC website, joined the Deans over an informal lunch that discussed everything from rejection at Harvard to the cheapest eats in the Square.

On April 27, Dean Hammonds and Jay L. Ellison, Secretary of the AdBoard, will participate in the second luncheon of our series, and we encourage students to sign up this week. By forging personal relationships between students and administrators in these informal settings, we may be better poised to achieve cooperative solutions to campus concerns.

In conjunction with our efforts to achieve effective communication between students and administrators, we realize that the UC must also address its own accountability to the student body. We have launched a number of initiatives to establish a culture of transparency and accessibility.

The UC recently published its first Annual Report that outlines its funding and advocacy work as well as current initiatives. A Mid-Year report, which will include recent advocacy initiatives like bringing coffee to FlyBy and making Lamont Library 24/7 during Reading Period, will be published in May. We hope these initiatives can better inform students of the UC’s current role and future goals.

The UC President and Vice President, hold bi-weekly office hours (times are found on the website and in the UC Weekly), typically in Lamont Cafe and most recently, in Cabot Cafe, to engage with student concerns and solicit feedback. Similarly, the UC Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair now hold weekly office hours to distribute checks and provide assistance in the grant application process.

Through UC Study Breaks, House and Yard UC reps chat with their constituents over food once a semester, and through our HoCo liaison program, reps stay updated on House Life by connecting with their HoCo members.

Finally, our UC Town Hall Initiative aims to bring students face-to-face with the issues they care about and give a voice to undergraduate concerns. The recent Responsible Investment Town Hall, which included panelists from Harvard Management Corporation and Harvard Business School, provided a necessary forum for discussion of Harvard's investment practices and brought an emerging student concern to the attention of the administration and the greater campus community.

Harvard, if you have complaints, please voice them. If you want to pursue an initiative on campus, let us know how we can help. Write an email to your UC representative with questions if you have them. Particularly impassioned? Speak to us in person. We sincerely believe that students should have a stronger, more unified, productive voice on campus, in communicating with each other and with the administration. This school can feel more like a distant institution than a place where we all live and study; students should be changing that, and we really want to help. Speak up, Harvard.

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