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UC Leaders Reflect on First Semester Goal to ‘Open Harvard’

Reflecting on their first semester as leaders of the Undergraduate Council, UC President Shaiba Rather ’17 and UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17 highlighted several new initiatives that they hope to institutionalize in the fall.

Rather and Banks, who ran for Council leadership last fall on a platform to “Open Harvard,” won the November presidential election with about 46 percent of first-choice votes.

Shaiba and Danny
UC President Shaiba Rather '17 and UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks at a general meeting earlier in the semester.

That platform became the basis for the UC’s “Grant for an Open Harvard College,” a $30,000 fund piloted this semester for new student initiatives that address “compelling interests” voted upon annually by the Council. This year’s compelling interests are mental health, race relations, sexual assault and harassment, and social spaces.

In an interview, Rather said much of the fund's success came from student leaders on campus finding creative ways of addressing the compelling interests. The UC allocated the entire fund this semester.

“Student leaders on this campus have stepped up, and they have raised the bar,” Rather said.

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Earlier this semester, some leaders of student theater organizations took issue with a policy that included a provision that provided more funding to theater productions that addressed compelling interests. In response to concerns over the policy overall, UC leaders promised to improve communication about Council policies.

Recently, the Council allocated $3,000 from the fund to pre-Yardfest neighborhood block parties, which Banks praised as a valuable step towards providing open social spaces on campus.

“If that was our legacy alone, that would be something that I would be happy about,” Banks said. “That is something that has come out of the innovation of the student body.”

Rather said she hopes to work with the Office of Student Life to make the event a “permanent part of Yardfest.”

This semester, UC representatives approved every grant allocation under the fund recommended by Rather, Banks, Finance Committee Chair William A. Greenlaw ’17, and Treasurer Samarth Gupta '18. But some raised concerns about the procedural aspects of the grant, noting that, unlike other pieces of legislation that the Council passes, the grant’s allocations do not go through one of the UC’s committees before being brought to the entire Council.

Rather said she and Banks will consider how to reform the grant’s legislative procedures, and suggested they may consider either the creation of a committee to evaluate grant requests or the appointment of a chair for the grant.

Rather and Banks said they plan to work with administrators to determine the future size of the fund, and hope it will be at least as large, if not larger, next year. This year, College administration funded half of the grant, while the other half came from the UC’s budget.

They also pointed out that, once the fall semester begins, they have limited time to put forward additional policy.

“We have around two months when we get back and then elections start,” Rather said. “That’s not a lot of time.”

Rather and Banks said they hope to use their remaining time to put forward new pilot programs, in addition to turn some of the existing initiatives from this semester—including the “Grant for an Open Harvard College” and the pre-Yardfest block parties—into “institutional frameworks.”

Banks also pointed to the recent Club 1636 event as an example of another social initiative that he would like to see continue.

“Shaiba and I have been working on this since we were co-chairs of the [Student Initiatives Committee], and now it’s really empowering to see something like this happen,” Banks said.

Rather and Banks also said they hoped students would continue to work to achieve their administration’s goals, even after new UC leaders are chosen.

“‘Open Harvard’ can’t end two months into next semester. If we’re successful, it’ll be something that people will be envisioning and redefining and restructuring,” Banks said.

—Staff writer Brian P. Yu can be reached at brian.yu@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @brianyu28.

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