UPDATED: November 15, 2016, at 1:05 p.m.
It is Friday night, and the eight candidates for Undergraduate Council leadership are gearing up for the Crimson Crossfire debate. Six of the candidates—the UC veterans—are clad in varying degrees of business casual. But the last ticket switched up the dress code.
At the end of the row are Grant S. Solomon ’18 and Alexander T. Moore ’18, holding J.P. Licks coffees and wearing twin “Harambe” t-shirts, a nod to the deceased gorilla who became a popular internet meme.
The crowd seems ready for jokes and gags from the two, but as Solomon and Moore begin to speak, it becomes clear that their irreverent shirts do not fully capture the tone of their campaign.
Both juniors in Lowell House, Solomon and Moore are UC outsiders, having before never served on the undergraduate governing body. Instead, they spend more of their time training across the River: Solomon plays men’s tennis and Moore runs track and field.
Solomon is a Romance Languages and Literatures concentrator from Texas and—according to the ticket's campaign representative Xavier Gonzalez ’18—the unofficial social chair of the tennis team. Moore, who hails from Washington, concentrates in Environmental Science and Engineering and previously worked as a Resource Efficiency Program representative.
As student-athletes, Solomon and Moore say they want to bring an oft-neglected perspective to the UC and “electrify Harvard” by expanding the College’s social scene. Harambe t-shirts aside, Solomon and Moore say they are taking this election seriously.
“I think a lot of students write off athletes because they don’t have the time to fully dedicate to UC, and I push back on that completely,” Moore said. “There’s commitments that we’ll have that perhaps clash with UC as far as time is concerned, but that doesn’t mean we’re not fully invested in both.”
It’s been years since two varsity athletes served as President and Vice President of the UC. But Solomon and Moore criticize the UC for what they see as a homogeneity of experiences, and say they can bring fresh insights to the table.
A decorated tennis player, Solomon says that athletes deal with the same difficulties as other students, but often more intensely.
“There’s a lot of time commitments that we have,” Solomon said. “I know my coach in particular really harps on ‘make sure you’re getting enough sleep, make sure you’re eating healthy in the dining halls, make sure if you are struggling in class ask for help.’”
To address a few of the issues Harvard athletes face, Solomon and Moore are advocating for hot breakfast in House dining halls, extended dining hall hours, and more flexible course add-drop deadlines. They believe these policies would be benefit all students, but perhaps are more pressing for those involved in varsity athletics.
“They’re good things for every student, but we’re a little bit more sensitive to those issues. If our coach demands a lot from us on the track and let’s say our dining hall is closed early, and then we’re out of food for the night, that’s really going to hurt us,” Moore said.
Their teammates also say the pair’s backgrounds in sports have trained them well for leadership. As members of close-knit teams, Solomon and Moore are accustomed to being held to high standards, said Lane Leschly ’20, a member of the men’s tennis team.
“There’s a certain amount of accountability and execution in athletics that is phenomenal and could really help for the UC presidency,” Leschly said. “We have partners who we’re accountable to for our performance every single day so that we don’t drop the ball, and goals that we make and stick to every month—they can’t be too far-fetched or too out there.”
Beyond their athletic perspectives, Solomon and Moore are pushing for what they call “electric politics,” a pledge to bring a more dynamic social atmosphere to campus.
“We’ve found that there’s a lot of people complaining, a lot of people are a little bit disgruntled, have issues, have qualms [about social life on campus],” Moore said. “We’re trying to make things just a little bit more open, a little bit more free for people to have fun, sort of blow off steam on the weekend.”
Solomon and Moore say they oppose the University’s historic sanctions on single-gender social organizations for what they characterize as the policy’s blanket treatment of a complicated issue. A member of the all-male Fox Club, Moore said he thought University administrators made too many assumptions in designing the policy, and didn’t sufficiently consult with the students affected.
“The issues that we have with the sanctions is that they don’t address the cultural component. They point fingers and say this is what’s wrong, but that’s not really a solution,” Moore said at the Crimson debate. “There’s a lot of people that I’ve met over my time here at Harvard who are great people. They’re involved in the final club scene. It’s important to remember that just because people are involved with something doesn’t mean that’s who they are. That doesn’t mean they believe in everything that those places represent.”
Solomon and Moore list a “Wet Yard,” expedited party forms, and House bars and coffee shops among their social life priorities.
Solomon said he thought existing policies that restrict alcohol in freshman dormitories create a dangerous environment by driving freshman to drink in secret, but relaxing those policies could improve freshman social life.
“We’re not advocating for people who are underage to drink by any means, but if you would choose to drink alcohol we’re saying that it should be allowed in the Yard,” Solomon said. “Your door should be open so, for example, if there are any noise complaints your proctor could walk in, but they’re not going to dump out the alcohol in front of your face.”
“There’s students who come from all over the world who are 21, who come from a culture where alcohol is acceptable,” Moore added. “We want to be aware of those people, coming from those different backgrounds, and we don’t want to take away from them.”
Another component of “electric politics,” Moore said, is helping students create more social options for themselves. Solomon and Moore are advocating to bring fast-track party forms to all Houses and dorms, a policy that has already been implemented in Cabot House and Mather House.
“We’re trying to make it so that if you want to throw something last minute—it's the modern era, right, so people make plans quickly in a matter of hours—someone can go from not having anything going on on the weekend to having too much going on,” Moore said.
In addition, Solomon and Moore say they want to work to unite student groups across campus, and are pushing for a program that would bring together students from different social spheres together for a meal. They’re also advocating for a multicultural center, a perennial ask from students and cultural affinity groups.
As the only UC ticket without any experience on the governing body, Solomon and Moore say they know they face an uphill battle. Still, they say their lack of UC experience does not mean they lack qualifications.
“We haven’t had UC experience, but I think that’s a positive and a negative. We look at the positive side,” Moore said.
While Solomon and Moore are optimistic about their outside perspective, some of their competitors have questioned their ability to do the job. At the debate Friday, presidential competitor Scott Ely ’18, during his closing statement, made a comment that Solomon and Moore took as a comparison of their candidacy to that of President-elect Donald Trump.
“We know what happens when we elect people who don't have experience,” Ely said.
Shortly afterwards, Solomon and Moore’s campaign Twitter account, @SoloMooreHarvUC, tweeted “Shots fired by Scott... Apparently fresh perspectives don't matter,” referencing Ely’s comment. The next day, they doubled down: “Mid-afternoon Saturday thoughts: Ely-Bonsall slogan is "Let's Start Now" - why haven't they started yet!? Been on UC for years supposedly!” they tweeted.
Outsiders or not, the two believe that their unique position as student-athletes and UC outsiders will enable them to unite students across Harvard.
“‘Electric politics’ means we’re going to try and electrify this campus, whether it’s from the social scene, whether it’s from offering our unique, different perspective, or whatever it may be,” Solomon said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 15, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quotation to Grant S. Solomon '18.