Keep Harvard’s Student Government Democratic

Blocking members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations from the Undergraduate Council is an overreach.

Last week, The Crimson reported that a sanctions implementation committee formed last November has recommended stricter penalties for members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations, proposing barriers for more fellowships and—much more disconcertingly—Undergraduate Council leadership positions, which are democratically elected by the student body. Though the committee’s report is still undergoing review by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and may not translate to actual policy, we urge administrators not to move forward with this illiberal and paternalistic measure.

The proposed sanctions, which are already under review by another committee, only punish individual members of single-gender organizations within the scope of their personal lives. Denying privileges such as team captaincies and fellowship recommendations is under the jurisdiction of the College; these are honors granted by Harvard.

By contrast, the right to elect UC leaders lies exclusively with the undergraduate student body. Harvard would be abusing its authority were it to vet the leaders that undergraduates freely chose. Moreover, this measure would indirectly punish the entire student body rather than individuals, as students would not be able to cast a vote for their preferred leader. The underlying premise is that the administration knows better than undergraduates, democracy and students’ autonomy be damned.

The implications of this potential measure are not merely hypothetical. Current UC president Yasmin Z. Sachee ’18 is a member of the all-female Bee Club and is not the first member of a final club to serve in the role. If administrators decide to include the UC presidency as one of the leadership roles covered by the sanctions, they threaten to infringe on a democratic process that has elected students in final clubs. Indeed, Sachee herself was elected after the announcement of the sanctions.

That said, we do not believe that final club membership is entirely irrelevant to student government. Final clubs are bastions of privilege whose members benefit from resources, especially institutionalized social capital, that have an effect on the way UC elections transpire. With this in mind, we believe that individual students, rather than the administration, should make the decision to be transparent about their social affiliations. In particular, members of such single-gender social organizations should address how they can represent the entirety of the student population while remaining members of such bastions of exclusion.

Furthermore, we urge UC leaders to continue to take measures to strengthen democratic representation. These could include increasing turnout in order to assure that the voting process is as broad as possible, and stipends—which have already been implemented—in order to assure that all students can run for office.

Indeed, there are many steps that can be taken to fortify our student government. Intrusion from the administration, however, is not one of them. In the words of former UC President Shaiba Rather ’17 and UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17, both vociferous supporters of the sanctions, the “vetting of elected members of student government based on affiliation in certain groups is detrimental, and fundamentally opposed, to the vivacity of the democratic process.”

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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