Kumar and Raji Promise Transparency, ‘Crimson Pride’ as UC Outsiders

Prashanth “PK” Kumar ’21 and Michael O. Raji ’22 say that their position as outsiders to the Undergraduate Council situates them to best deliver solutions representative of the entire student body.
By Margaret M. Hylton and Andy Z. Wang

A pedestrian walks through Harvard Yard in front of Sever Hall.
A pedestrian walks through Harvard Yard in front of Sever Hall. By Allison G. Lee

Prashanth “PK” Kumar ’21 and Michael O. Raji ’22 say that their position as outsiders to the Undergraduate Council situates them to best deliver solutions representative of the entire student body. The candidates — who have never served on the UC — are campaigning with the slogan “One Harvard” and on a platform of transparency and school spirit.

Kumar and Raji — who hail from Atlanta, Ga., and League City, Texas, respectively — argue the Council’s decisions are poorly communicated to the student body at large and lack appropriate input from the undergraduate population. Though they have not been involved with student government at Harvard, the pair say their extracurricular experiences on campus make them qualified contenders for UC leadership.

“He does a great job of leading by supporting the people around him,” Annika Bassey ’22, who serves on a Holworthy Peer Advising Fellow entryway team with Kumar, said in an interview Saturday. “I think he’ll bring that to the UC — just being there for all the students of Harvard and representing all of our interests the best way he can.”

The duo aims to use the UC presidency to bring the student body closer together. They say this entails opening more lines of communication between the UC and students, as well as bolstering policy to improve sexual assault prevention, social inclusivity, and school spirit.

Outsiders’ Perspective

Kumar and Raji are not shy to admit that in a field of candidates who tout UC experience, they have never sponsored legislation at Harvard. But they say they believe distance from the Council’s work is an asset that has helped them to recognize a lack of transparency.

“As UC outsiders, we have a niche perspective into how the UC has failed to inform changes being made to Harvard at large,'' Kumar said at a Harvard Political Union debate Saturday night. “We want to crack open the idea of the UC bubble, so that the voices of all students can be elevated, not just those who attend the town halls.”

Raji said the duo would address the lack of information about the UC decision-making conferred to the student body at large.

“We’ve learned a lot about how the UC functions, and we believe that you shouldn’t have to run for the highest office in UC to understand that many changes are going on,” Raji said at the HPU debate. “There’s many different mechanisms that dictate many of your lives.”

Kumar also disputed the idea that UC experience is an essential qualification for the UC President and Vice President. He cited his PAF mentorship as an example of the work he’s done to impact his peers.

“I can’t say I’ve written legislation or anything like that, but I’ve fought for every single one of my freshmen as though they’re my little siblings,” Kumar said. “So if we’re talking impact, I think I’ve made just as much impact as anyone on the UC.”

The pair also say that their position as outsiders allows them to be the most effective at connecting with all facets of the Harvard College campus. Raji added they would create a website for the student body to submit feedback to UC leadership and focus on communicating changes to the student body as a whole.

Social Connections and Student Support

Kumar and Raji said they aim to address social divisions they see on campus by boosting school spirit and pride, a priority they say is unique to their campaign.

The duo, who participate in athletics on campus, cite their plan to improve the social scene for student athletes as an example of their plans to advocate for campus cohesion. To address student-athletes’ social isolation, the two say they would co-host special events with the athletics department to create an “inclusive space.”

“I think that the UC should be focusing on improving school spirit as a whole and solving social spaces,” Kumar said. “A unique feature we have is talking to the athletics department, and they are willing to host parties and tailgates.”

Raji also highlighted the importance that multicultural social spaces play in giving students from diverse backgrounds a space to feel welcome. If elected, the two say they would prioritize funding cultural and affinity groups and push for a multicultural center. Raji said many offices in the Science Center would be moved to the new Allston campus next year, opening up space for multicultural organizations adjacent to the Yard.

“Creating a space for different affinity groups to have can create a de facto multicultural center and a sense of belonging for students who feel disadvantaged,” Raji said.

On the topics of sexual assault and mental health, the two said UC advocacy could drive campus-wide change. They said they would advocate for more same-day counseling appointments at Counseling and Mental Health Services, while simultaneously bolstering funding for student peer counseling groups like Contact and Indigo.

“[CAMHS] is a great resource for nonemergency appointments, and we need to tell the administration we want more of those,” Kumar said. “Mental health is urgent and it requires resources that are there for you.”

Citing his familiarity with Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Drug and Alcohol Peer Advisor training as a PAF, Kumar argued mandated training for all upperclassmen would improve safety in the Houses.

“If you train every entryway, those are the people who are throwing the events, usually. And so upperclassmen need to be trained for OSAPR,” Kumar said. “And it’s not going to be perfect, not going to save every case, but it can make a difference. “

Extracurricular Engagement

Though the two are not involved with the Undergraduate Council, both Kumar and Raji are active in several other facets of campus life. In addition to serving as a PAF, Kumar — an Applied Mathematics concentrator — is manager of the men’s varsity tennis team and tutors local high school students through College High-School Alliance: A Nexus for Creative Education at Phillips Brooks House Association.

“Working closely with him, I’ve seen how great he is with our first-year students that we advise,” Bassey said. “He is always showing up for them and doing anything he can to make sure that they’re thriving.”

Bassey — a member of the women’s varsity tennis team — lauded Kumar’s commitment to Harvard athletics as well.

“He spends a lot of time with the team. I see him at all their practices,” said Bassey. “He even goes to lift with them in the mornings.”

Raji currently serves as the social chair of the Club Tennis team, works on accessibility-related projects for Harvard Common Spaces, and is a member of the Black Students Association and Black Men’s Forum. In addition, he is a research assistant at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Club Tennis President Jaylen C. Wang ’22 said in a Sunday interview that he thinks Raji shows a commitment to inclusivity as the team’s social chair.

“He’s like the glue. So whenever we go out to team dinners, he makes sure that everyone feels comfortable on the team, ” Wang said. “Whenever we plan events he makes sure that everybody has access to it.”

Kumar and Raji say that their ability to connect with others on campus empowers them to shape a UC decision-making process that includes unheard voices from the student body.

“We’re outsiders. But I think this is our best benefit,” Kumar said. “We need to focus on the groups aren’t voting that we can get engaged with. That’s where we start, and that’s why voting for outsiders is the best bet.”

CollegeUndergraduate CouncilStudent Life