Shaiba Rather ’17 and Daniel V. “Danny” Banks ’17 settled into an easy mood as they began to banter in a recent interview. “We’ve worked out our dynamic—specifically when to bicker and when not to bicker—quite nicely… but mostly when to bicker,” Banks joked.
The charismatic duo became close after joining the Undergraduate Council last year, when Rather and Banks were elected as sophomores from Cabot and Dunster House, respectively. The two share many interests, including the fact that they are both Social Studies concentrators, and now reference their friendship as a strength of their ticket to run the UC as president and vice president next year.
“I think that has a lot of merit when you’re trying to make big changes,” Rather said. “We know how to complement each other really well.”
But aside from their close friendship, Rather and Banks and their supporters boast their experience both inside and outside the UC. Rather and Banks are the co-chairs of the UC’s Student Initiatives Committee. According to Banks, the committee was previously reactionary and mainly served to fund student requests, but has since become the UC’s second largest committee with a budget that has expanded by 50 percent.
The other accomplishments on the Council they tout include bringing Halal chicken to dining halls, renovating the religious prayer spaces located in Canaday basement, and establishing the Harvard Project, a grant program for student initiatives.
“Both are very magnanimous… they command your attention and respect,” said Cameron K. Khansarinia ’18, a Cabot House UC representative and the ticket’s campaign manager. “They are two people on the Council that I would want to work with the most.”
Rather and Banks are running on a platform of establishing what they describe as an “Open Harvard.” Rather argues that it is not a coincidence that conversations about sexual assault, mental health, and final clubs are happening at the same time, but instead a product of students not feeling at home here.
“It’s because students don’t feel safe on this campus,” Rather says. “They don’t feel like they have ownership of the space on this campus.”
Outside of the UC, both Rather and Banks are heavily involved in extracurricular activities.
Rather is a peer advising fellow and Room 13 counselor and participates in the South Asian Association, Asian American Mental Health Task force, the Organization of Asian American Sisters in Service, or OAASIS, and the mock trial team. Banks is the founder of the UC’s BGLTQ caucus, administrative chair of Dunster House Committee, and a member of the College’s Honor Council and the University Committee on Rights and Responsibilities.
Also speaking to life and activities outside the UC, at the top of the pair’s agenda is fostering what they say would be inclusive social life on campus under the prong of “Open Social Spaces.” “It’s important that you are able to claim ownership over a space,” Banks said.
Their agenda items on this part of their platform focus on accessibility in the Houses, specifically proposing putting ramps in all dining halls and establishing gender-neutral bathrooms in all student life buildings.
“It’s not that hard to put a ramp in every House,” Banks said. “And not all Houses, buildings, or dorms are accessible to people who don’t fall in the male or female part of the gender spectrum.”
In addition to proposing repurposing $30,000 in UC funding to support open student parties, Rather and Banks also devote a large part of their platform to discussing campus social life and the role of Harvard’s final clubs, a focus of recent administrative scrutiny.
As officials from University President Drew G. Faust to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana criticize the groups, claiming that they are exclusive, two historically male clubs have gone co-ed. That news has dominated recent campus discussion.
Like the other two tickets running for UC leadership, Rather and Banks said at a Crimson-hosted debate on Saturday that they would have voted against a proposed referendum calling on Harvard to ban undergraduates from joining all-male final clubs. They also said Harvard should recognize single-sex social organizations, and in an interview reiterated that while they think the decisions of several final clubs to go co-ed is a large step in making Harvard more inclusive, it is not a panacea.
“It’s incredibly important that we recognize that those people in the final clubs are our friends. They’re Harvard students. They’re people in our classes and who we eat in the dining halls with,” Rather said. “The administration needs to stop this policy of dividing Harvard students.”
"It's incredibly important that we recognize that those people in the final clubs are our friends," Rather says. "The administration needs to stop this policy of dividing Harvard students."
Their campaign platform does, however, call for some significant changes to the groups and their membership selection processes. Rather and Banks say they would like to see final clubs release their membership demographics as well as open the punch process, pointing out that social organizations such as the Seneca, fraternities, and sororities already engage in open selection processes.
They also propose that final clubs host regular open parties, which they said was an idea suggested to them by several members of final clubs. In formulating their platform, Rather and Banks said they approached active club members for advice.
In the second prong of the ticket’s platform, calling to “Open Dialogue,” Rather and Banks say they want to change the way students talk about mental health and sexual assault on campus, two other topics that have attracted attention from students and administrators this year.
On one point, Rather and Banks propose supplementing professional mental health services from Harvard University Health Services with personnel in the Houses themselves.
“There’s a barrier to entry of walking into UHS, clicking the fourth floor, and then sitting in a lobby that has a sign that says ‘Counseling and Mental Health Services.’ That’s scary for a lot of people,” Rather said.
With regards to sexual assault, Rather and Banks suggest implementing a bystander intervention program. They said they have been working on such a program for three months with administrators from the Office of Student Life, the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services, and Banks argued that this initiative would take the necessary preventative approach to addressing sexual misconduct on campus.
Two of their proposals in this part of their platform are policy-specific and especially ambitious. First, they call for Harvard to adopt a sexual assault policy of affirmative consent, just more than a year after the University rolled out a new sexual harassment policy that lacks an explicit affirmative consent clause.
Second, the pair propose securing a seat for a student representative seat on Harvard’s Board of Overseers, the University’s second-highest governing body that is hundreds of years old and has long been composed of alumni who advise Harvard leaders.
On their campaign website, Rather and Banks claim that this group “controls Smith Campus Center, UHS, sexual assault & final club policy,” although in fact many other administrators are involved in making those day-to-day decisions and the Harvard Corporation is the University's highest governing body.
Still, Rather and Banks argue that among a board of alumni, a student would best represent and advocate on behalf of undergraduates. “How can someone who attended this College when there were no women make policy advice on sexual assault?” Rather said. “We want to put a student representative on that board, that can ideally represent where the campus is right now.”
Rather and Banks devote the last third of their platform specifically to freshmen. A large part of that involves proposals that they say will make Harvard more socially inclusive for freshmen.
“We want to recenter freshman social life to the yard, so that freshmen have a place to call their own,” Banks said.
Some of their proposals involve repurposing existing spaces, like turning FlyBy, housed in Annenberg, into a late-night dining option for freshmen, akin to the grills in upperclassman Houses. They also say they plan to work side-by-side with Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67 to repurpose a space for freshmen.
Others would be more drastic changes, like changing Harvard’s alcohol policy to be “open door,” a rule that at some other schools allows students to drink in their dorm rooms without being disciplined if doors are open to residential staff.
“Freshmen are robbed of their common rooms because of the ‘no alcohol’ policy,” Banks said.
“We’ve seen and experienced how space on campus is closed off. Our first instinct was and is to work to open them. That’s what we’re trying to do with Harvard,” Rather said.