Mahajan and Patel Plan To Bridge Gaps in Student Experience

Sanika S. Mahajan ’21 and Rushi A. Patel ’21, one of several tickets vying for the Undergraduate Council presidency and vice presidency, hope to fix perceived gaps in the undergraduate  experience and empower student activists, according to their campaign platform.
By Fiona K. Brennan and Sixiao Yu

University Hall in Harvard Yard.
University Hall in Harvard Yard. By Thomas Maisonneuve

Sanika S. Mahajan ’21 and Rushi A. Patel ’21, one of several tickets vying for the Undergraduate Council presidency and vice presidency, hope to fix perceived gaps in the undergraduate experience and empower student activists, according to their campaign platform.

Mahajan has represented Mather House on the UC for two years and has chaired both the Health, Safety, and Wellness Committee and the Women’s Caucus. A junior in Quincy House, Patel has been on the UC since his freshman year and is chair of the First-Year Class Committee.

In their roles, Patel piloted the UC Summer Storage Initiative, which gave 400 students access to summer storage at 15 dollars for four boxes, and Mahajan instituted the inaugural Excellence in Support Student Mental Health Award given to faculty, according to their campaign site.

Mahajan and Patel declined to comment for this article.

UC Representative Phiroze K. Parasnis ’21 said he admires Mahajan and Rushi’s experience and supports their ticket.

“I think that the UC works best when it integrates the advocacy work and the project-based work and I think that they are the ticket that — the only ticket that — combines the two,” he said.

Mahajan and Patel have focused their campaign on “Bridging Harvard,” which is their campaign slogan. It is premised on five main issues: identity and accessibility, student advocacy, mental health, academic life, and sexual violence prevention.

Mahajan and Patel’s campaign site indicates that they aim to increase support for student activists and provide opportunities for undergraduates to push for institutional changes on campus, according to their campaign materials.

“If student government isn’t going to stand behind students, then who is?” Mahajan said in a video on the campaign website.

To bolster student advocacy, the two plan to set up a “Change ‘Hack-a-thon.’” The proposal would give students access to administrators, faculty, and UC members “to formulate and pitch their ideas revolving around institutional change,” according to their website.

Mahajan and Patel also want to create a “third branch of the UC” that includes a member from each student organization, allowing for greater representation of student groups within the body.

“What they would be given the ability to do is combat and endorse legislation, as well as inform longer-term policy projects,” Patel said in a video on their campaign website.

The pair plan to establish further support for student activists by instituting a point person among residential staff who focuses on student activism and advocacy.

“We think it’s important for everyone from house deans to proctors and tutors to be better informed and trained on supporting student activism, as well as be more a part of the conversations that occur on campus,” Mahajan said in the video.

In addition to student advocacy, Mahajan and Patel said in campaign videos they think more work is necessary in order to expand measures for mental health and sexual violence prevention on campus.

The pair said they want to do this by looking beyond current institutional practices and services.

“To address these issues, we need to take a look at every single step in the mental health journey, from accessing [Counseling and Mental Health Services], to referrals to outside providers, to informing policy,” Patel said in a campaign video.

Mahajan said she has attempted to improve the leave of absence policy through her work on the UC’s Health, Safety, and Wellness Committee by working to increase mental health support in an effort to decrease the number of mental health-related leaves of absence.

One part of their plan includes personalizing CAMHS access by assigning each student a personal CAMHS counselor whose information will be in the student’s advising tab.

Mahajan and Patel have also said that they want to improve the accessibility of external providers by facilitating connections through videos, subsidized Uber and Lyft transportation, and sponsoring events that bring external providers onto campus.

At the Harvard Political Union’s UC Presidential Candidate Debate Saturday evening, Mahajan and Patel also said that they are committed to preventing sexual violence on campus. On their website, they highlight methods such as providing a free “date rape drug test chip” and institutionalizing UC-funded bystander training to enforce community standards on sexual assault.

“Ways that Rushi and I will continue to do that is to think about how we can bridge the gap between students and the resources that are already available to make them better and more student-facing,” Mahajan said at the debate.

In addition to advocacy, Mahajan and Patel said they will seek financial and institutional independence for the UC from the University administration in order to fully implement their suggested changes on campus. The pair said that it is currently difficult to get UC projects through the administration’s constraints.

“The biggest gap of all is the gap between the change students deserve and the change administrators are willing to give,” Patel said at the debate.

Mahajan and Patel pointed to their plan for a multicultural center as an example of how they are advocating for the UC to accomplish its goals, even without the support of the administration. Students have been fighting for a multicultural center for nearly fifty years.

College spokesperson Aaron Goldman pointed to comments Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana has previously made about working with many students to solicit opinions about building a multicultural center.

“If you really respect people’s participation, then you have to listen to them. You have to make sure all voices are heard,” Khurana said last year.

Mahajan and Patel said they want to temporarily rent property near Harvard Square to house the center and then use student involvement and support to push for a long-term solution. The pair hopes to fund this project and others like it through sources outside of the University.

“That’s why we are proposing to take actions in our own hands: leverage alumni donations, use UC money, as well as external partnerships, and carry out the projects themselves,” Patel said.

Mahajan and Patel have said they believe an independent UC would be able to institute its long-term goals, because it will not need to wait for approval from the administration.

“We no longer want to take no as an answer because we don’t need their permission,” Mahajan said.

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