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Khoury and Agrawal Push Transparency and Accessibility

Khoury-Agrawal
Undergraduate Council Presidential Candidates Nadine M. Khoury '20 and Arnav Agrawal '20.

Nadine M. Khoury ’20 and Arnav Agrawal ’20 immediately connected on the Undergraduate Council over a shared experience — living in “The Freshman Quad.”

Both starting on the UC freshman fall representing Crimson Yard — Khoury in Greenough and Agrawal in Pennypacker — the farthest group of freshmen dorms from Annenberg.

Now, two-and-a-half years later, the two are vying for the top jobs on the Council, believing their wealth of experience will allow them to accomplish their campaign slogan: “Transform Harvard.”

Presidential candidate Khoury, a Bioengineering concentrator in Cabot House from Brooklyn, New York, is the current Treasurer of the UC. Vice presidential candidate Agrawal, an Economics concentrator in Eliot House from New Delhi, India, is the sitting chair of the UC’s Student Life Committee.

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The two touted their ability to lobby administrators and their policy achievements throughout their freshman and sophomore years as evidence of their ability to succeed as UC leaders.

“We worked on free menstrual hygiene products for Crimson Yard together freshman year,” Agrawal said. “Then in sophomore year we worked on a bike subsidy program for students living in the quad, and summer storage for students living in those houses.”

“We work together very well, and we are excited to embark on this journey together,” Khoury added.

If elected, the two hope to use their skills to tackle what they see as the most important issues on campus, including bolstering social life, improving mental health resources, and increasing transparency on the UC.

“Our platform is based around what problems students are facing and what can we do to solve that,” Agrawal said.

A Place to Call Home

After leaving their freshman dorms, Khoury and Agrawal realized that much was lacking for freshman. In particular, they recalled very few places exclusively for freshman to meet and interact.

“What we’ve really benefited from coming from the Houses is that you have this place to call home, you can relax in the JCR, the dining hall, but you do not have that as first year students,” Agrawal said.

To fill this perceived void, he said that he and Khoury plan to create “a social space exclusively for first year students.” According to their campaign website, the duo hope to use Pusey Library — home of the Harvard University archives — as that space.

Beyond spaces exclusively for freshmen, Khoury and Agrawal also hope to bolster undergraduate social life as a whole.

To better inform College students of events on campus, the ticket hopes to create a comprehensive events calendar available to all students. They plan to populate the events calendar with student-run events funded through the Council in order to increase awareness of social events.

“Right now we have a system where the UC funds student organizations every week and we have a list of people that come to apply from student organizations,” Khoury said. “To be able to streamline all of that information into a calendar, push it to everyone so no one has to sit in their dorm room Friday night and wonder what is going on; people will know in the Cabot Aquarium this club is hosting a big party.”

The candidates also want to expand and institutionalize some of the recent changes to the freshmen experience, including the new First Year Retreat and Experience pre-orientation program aimed at under-resourced freshmen.

‘Barrier to Entry’

Khoury and Agrawal said issues of mental health will be a central tenet of their platform. They see several recent developments on campus as having a particularly negative impact on students' mental wellbeing.

In particular, Harvard is awaiting the verdict of a high-stakes and high-profile admissions lawsuit accusing the University of discrimination against Asian-American applicants to the College.

“It represents a time where people might be questioning whether they belong here in the first place,” Khoury said. “That’s a barrier to entry, if you keep having this imposter syndrome, and that people say you do not deserve to be here, we do not need that to permeate into Harvard student life.”

Agrawal added that increasing the transparency of the admissions process would alleviate some of the concerns.

“As an Asian I didn’t know how different things factored into my decision; more transparency there will make the Harvard community feel like home.” Agrawal said.

Additionally, faculty and administrators are currently debating a proposal to ending shopping week — a period at the beginning of the semester in which students can freely explore courses. The pair asserted that the policy plays a beneficial role in balancing student welfare.

“This will help the mental health of students as well, knowing that you are not locked in you can change if you find that this course is too hard, it is not for you, or you want to take it at a different time slot,” Khoury said.

“All of these logistical changes get maintained if you are able to maintain shopping week,” she added.

To alleviate student mental health issues, the duo is proposing assigning personal Counseling and Mental Health Services specialists to each student, which would appear on student portal my.harvard.

“People are very reluctant to go and speak with a CAMHS counsellor,” Agrawal said. “This can be improved by assigning a personal counselor to every person, just as you are assigned a doctor from UHS. This will be an additional face on my.harvard.”

Always Room for Improvement

The pair also have plans to make multiple improvements to the UC’s own policies. In particular, during their time on the Council, they said they found a lack of accountability and insufficient minority representation concerning.

“We have discussion during meetings and people do not know what happened... or what each representative actually said,” Agrawal said.

Specifically, Khoury and Agrawal want to improve students’ access to Council meeting notes to allow students to see how they are being represented.

“We can do a better job by publishing the minutes to the entire student body,” Agrawal said. “So for example if you are an Eliot student, you have no idea what your representative is actually saying, whether they are representing you properly.”

Besides Council transparency, Khoury and Agrawal said representation of student opinions — particularly those of minorities — is lacking with upper level administrators. They are proposing a new board on the Council that would have direct contact with these administrators in order to amplify the voices of underrepresented students .

“One of our ideas is to make a minority voices board where we have one representative from each identity, minority, cultural and ethnic-group that reports directly to the upper administration, from the Deans to the President,” Khoury said.

They emphasized that it is the UC’s responsibility to unify such student voices on campus.

“I believe it’s the UC’s job to pull these groups together,” Khoury said. “We can say we are a coherent majority and we want to make change — that is when they will start listening and enacting real change.”

Khoury and Agrawal said that their vision is to bring the ideas of all College students into the Council.

“We have poured our hearts into the UC over the past two and a half years,” Khoury added. “We want to bring all the students into it so everyone can feel like they’re involved.”

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