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When Harvard undergraduates vote for new Undergraduate Council leadership later this month, they will also have the chance to vote on four referenda expressing requests of the University ranging from gender neutral housing available to all students to public endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform.
Students will also have the opportunity to vote on a program through which the University would provide MBTA passes to undergraduates and a proposal to ban the sale of water bottles and expand tap water options on campus.
The students behind each referendum had to first petition to have their proposals placed on the ballot by obtaining signatures from 10 percent of the student body.
Tania C. Amarillas ’15, legislative director of Act on a Dream at Harvard College, said that her group was surprised by the amount of support that the immigration reform petition received. “It was actually overwhelming, the amount of people that not only wanted to see the question on the referendum, but also the broader campaign at Harvard,” she added.
According to Amarillas, Act on a Dream petitioned to have its proposal on the ballot in the hopes that a University endorsement of immigration reform would pressure Congress to act on stalled legislation.
Ultimately, Amarillas said she hopes that University President Drew G. Faust will write a letter in support of immigration reform, as she has done in the past for the DREAM Act. The law, which would have allowed immigrants who had lived in the United States as children and graduated from U.S. high schools to obtain permanent residency, failed to pass in both chambers of Congress.
Students for a Just and Stable Future, which organized last year’s referendum question on divestment, sponsored the MBTA referendum question. The question asks Harvard to purchase MBTA passes for all of its students at half the regular cost.
Through a similar program at MIT, students and employees there currently receive a 50 percent subsidy on MBTA monthly passes.
Harvard Environmental Action Committee Chair Katrina D. Malakhoff ’14 said that the water bottle proposal by the EAC is one component of a two-fold approach to get students to utilize more tap water resources and reduce plastic water bottle waste.
“Switching our campus over to being bottle-free or mostly bottle-free is a small behavioral change that can have a big environmental impact,” Malakhoff said. “Right here in Cambridge, we have some of the cleanest tap water in the country.”
Last year, the UC ballot featured three referenda—one for the University to divest from fossil fuels, another for Harvard to establish a social choice fund, and the last one calling on the College to reconsider its sexual assault policies. Though students voted overwhelmingly in favor of each proposal, only one referendum, the creation of a the social choice fund, has led to administrative action.
Each referendum question on this year’s ballot will be reviewed by the Institute of Politics’ Harvard Public Opinion Project in the coming days to ensure neutrality in its wording. Students both in favor of and against each question will also be allowed to submit pro and con statements, which may appear on the ballot, to the Rules Committee of the UC.
Voting will begin on Nov. 18 and conclude on Nov. 21.
—Staff writer Steven S. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StevenSJLee.
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