M. Thorwald “Thor” Larson ’21 and Case McKinley ’21, candidates for the Undergraduate Council presidency and vice presidency, are running on a platform that aims to bring accessibility, transparency, and a “Fun Fund” to the UC.
Larson, a New Mexico native, is a junior in Lowell House and serves as the Vice Chair of the Finance Committee on the UC. During the current term, he has been involved in recent legislation to provide Uber subsidies to access medical and mental health facilities.
McKinley, a junior in Dunster House, currently serves as the Vice Chair of the UC’s Health, Safety, and Wellness Committee. During his term, he has urged administrators to renovate campus buildings to improve access for disabled and injured students. McKinley, who uses a wheelchair, said in a candidate debate Saturday evening that he understands the need for increased inclusion on campus.
“Before being elected to the UC, I was a committed advocate for disabled students, planning events all over campus addressing reception for disability on campus and inclusion for those students, and working with administration, advising on house renewal to make sure that the acceptable spaces to come into existence work for students like me,” McKinley said in the Harvard Political Union’s UC Presidential Debate Saturday
In a Friday interview, Larson and McKinley outlined their three main campaign aims — campus accessibility, the Fun Fund, and financial transparency — as a means of proving to the student body that the UC can be effective.
“A lot of people look at the UC as a body that doesn't do anything, as a body that's more concerned with politics and looking good and sounding good instead of doing good,” Larson said.
“We have this healthy balance of understanding the way the UC works even at the highest levels, and yet still retaining our skepticism of, you know, the UC is inefficient, and it is not perfect, and not all paths to success at Harvard and success for students have to go through the UC,” Larson said.
The duo is running under the slogan “We Do Stuff,” a motto they said captures the transparency they hope to bring to the UC, as well as their own commitment to action over verbal promises.
“We want the UC to be an effective, inclusive force for change,” Larson said. “‘We’ is inclusive, ‘do’ is effective and the ‘stuff’ we do is change.”
Larson and McKinley said their “Access for All” platform intends to make campus life “accessible, affordable, and available” to all students.
“That means making sure that every phase of Harvard is accessible, affordable, and available to all students, regardless of physical and mental health condition, regardless of financial status, regardless of whatever,” Larson said. “Everyone should be able to go anywhere because everyone belongs here.”
Larson said it was important to work collaboratively with campus affinity groups to create more accessible social spaces. He noted the possibility of purchasing properties or repurposing existing locations to build a new multicultural center.
“I think the first thing to recognize is that we, as the UC, cannot claim to be the experts in the room on this issue. That ultimately, you know, we need to have consistent outreach with the major groups on campus for whom this is their main focus,” Larson said.
Citing a University-wide survey that found that the majority of respondents felt they belonged at Harvard, McKinley called for the UC to better support students who felt unwelcome during Saturday’s debate.
“Look, I'm part of the 19 percent that said I didn't feel I belong at Harvard, and I empathize with those groups. We do need multicultural spaces now. But more importantly, we need those spaces to be permanent,” McKinley said.
Larsen and McKinley’s second major policy proposal is the Fun Fund, an initiative to sponsor individual social outings and activities that do not occur within a set student organization. The goal, according to the pair, is to create valuable experiences for the student body by subsidizing small events such as MBTA rides to Boston or brownie-baking.
Larson said that, unlike DAPA grants, the Fun Fund would sponsor low-key social gatherings rather than just parties. Their campaign website notes Larson and McKinley have already identified more than $15,000 in the UC’s current budget to fund the initiatives, and that they “hope to find even more.”
“We're going to fund the social scene you want,” McKinley said at Saturday’s debate. “We will go out to folks and make sure they know that funding exists and make sure we know what they want.”
Larson also advocated bringing additional transparency to the UC’s budget.
During his tenure on the UC’s finance committee, Larson said he came to the conclusion that the UC should publicize how it spends its budget. His campaign calls for a two-pronged plan to address the issue of financial transparency.
In addition to making students aware of how the UC spends their $200 Student Activities Fee, Larson said he wants to ensure “that the money that is being used ineffectively is instead put into things like the Fun Fund and for clubs.”
Larson and McKinley also said they aim to bring more fun to their interactions with students. They said they believe that bringing dogs to “pawfice hours” will encourage students to talk to UC leaders about their concerns and ideas.
“One of the biggest problems that the UC has in outreach is that people don't really either know how to contact us or, if they know how to contact us, they don't want to contact us,” Larson said. “I would hope these things would have high turnout because people love dogs.”
Larson and McKinley’s website states these initiatives will help students’ awareness of the UC’s $500,000 budget, develop new channels to fund more informal student activities, and help students and cubs get funding “easily, quickly, and reliably.”