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Roundtable: Do the recent UC elections and their subsequent results demonstrate that the UC is irrelevant on campus?

By Hannah M. Borowsky, Sietse Goffard, C.C. Gong, Tianhao He, and Chloe S. Maxmin

Advocating For Activism

Let’s face it: Harvard University dismisses even the faintest murmur of student activism. As activists at Harvard, we have experienced this first hand. But the Undergraduate Council has been one of the most supportive bodies for student activism on campus, devoting resources and energy to student interests. Denouncing the Undergraduate Council is callous and counterproductive.

Over the last two semesters, UC President Tara Raghuveer and Vice President Jen Zhu have dedicated themselves unconditionally to supporting and magnifying student voice on campus. The UC has maintained students’ faith that we can change Harvard for the better, and for this they deserve our support and gratitude.

Tara and Jen have served as invaluable advisors to and advocates for both Divest Harvard and the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. They were the calming voice of support during the Boston Marathon tragedy and its aftermath. They were instrumental last spring in giving students space to channel their concerns about mental health issues on campus.

Without students like Tara, Jen, and all UC representatives who we rely on to speak up for the student body, Harvard is a brand and a $32.7 billion endowment managed by bureaucrats. Instead of grumbling about the well-intended work of our fellow students on the UC, all students should come together and demand that our voices be heard by our university.

Hannah M. Borowsky ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is an organismic and evolutionary biology concentrator in Leverett House. Chloe S. Maxmin ’15, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Leverett House. They are members of Divest Harvard.

The UC Matters

Have you ever studied in Lamont past midnight? Swiped into a House other than your own? Grabbed lunch at Flyby? Received funding for a student-organized event? As routine as these conveniences all seem today, they exist thanks to the steadfast efforts of past UC representatives.

Depicting the institution as “irrelevant” ignores its many vital functions and important successes, especially in recent years. We distribute over $500,000 in student group grants annually. It was the UC that brought 24/7 Lamont Library hours, as well as the student-run Lamont Cafe in 2006. Major UC advocacy and a student referendum in 2007 led to substantial reform of the academic calendar, including final exams before rather than after winter break. Harvard’s Secondary Field in Ethnic Studies was borne out of a campaign spearheaded by the UC and a cross-campus coalition. Our long-standing push for an undergraduate student center helped secure a major donation for its development. Just this Tuesday, the UC and Office of Student Life announced the long-desired return of weekend morning shuttles. With all this in mind, a more fair statement would be: “The recent advocacy efforts and their subsequent results demonstrate that the UC is very relevant on campus.”

We also respectfully disagree with the claim that elections indicate some kind of UC “irrelevance.” The fact remains that, in the majority of Houses, representative races were competitive and characterized by substantial campaigning. It should be expected that House elections are less competitive than their Yard counterparts, since upperclassmen tend to be more heavily involved in prior commitments. That a few candidacies were left undeclared should not overshadow the UC’s numerous accomplishments in the past year alone.

To end on a broader note, we urge the Crimson staff and readers alike not to let the arduous, long-term nature of our work give way to cynicism or disillusionment about the UC. Ultimately, when it comes to advocating for change at an institution as historic as Harvard, we must accept that progress is gradual but achievable. Now more than ever, the UC matters.

Sietese Goffard ’15 is an economics concentrator in Currier House. C.C. Gong ’15 is a psychology concentrator in Currier House. They are both returning UC Representatives.

Against Conventional Wisdom

I am a junior, and I ran for UC for the first time this fall and was elected to represent Mather. That’s not supposed to happen. The conventional wisdom is that as upperclassmen, we are supposed to become jaded and disillusioned with the UC, and we are supposed to dismiss it as an irrelevant institution that is not worth our time or attention. So as a junior, why did I run for the UC for the first time? Because I still believe in the UC, and I think it’s about time that we rethink this conventional wisdom.

As each semester wears on, it is easy for everyone to hunker down into his or her own world of schoolwork and extracurricular commitments. But I think that the UC as an institution gives us a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday school life, reflect, and think about what we can do together as a student body. At the heart of the UC is a commitment to service, and service is about being part of something that is bigger than you and will outlast you.

I still believe that the UC has the capacity to bring together the student body in meaningful ways to achieve big picture changes. These big picture changes take time, but just because their impacts will be felt well into the future do not mean that we should not start right now. If you witness a problem such as low voter turnout at UC elections, the solution is not to continue not voting, but to take the initiative to vote and encourage your friends to do the same. If you think that the UC is not addressing the issues that you want it to address, then the solution is not to dismiss the UC as irrelevant, but to take the initiative to join the conversation.

There is so much excitement around the University right now about how we can reimagine the Harvard undergraduate experience. Now is not the time to sit on the side-lines and wait. The four years we spend here at Harvard are such a special time in our lives, and the UC can play a critical role in empowering students and giving students a sense of agency in shaping their undergraduate experience. I have a hunch that we will all be amazed by how much we can accomplish together when we genuinely listen to one another. That’s why I still believe in the UC.

Tianhao He ’15 is a Junior in Mather House concentrating in Sociology. He is one of Mather's current UC reps.

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