The Undergraduate Council failed to pass two amendments to its caucus system that would have either redefined the purposes of a caucus or eliminated the system entirely at the body's weekly general meeting Monday.
UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20, UC Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20, Mather House Representative Sanika S. Mahajan ’21, and Kirkland House Representative Ajay V. Singh ’21 proposed an amendment to "further clarify purpose and definition of caucuses and communities of interest."
Huesa said the original intention of the caucus system — instituted in April 2017 — was to represent the UC’s marginalized communities and ensure attention was paid to the “needs and interests” of those groups.
“We felt that people were starting to abuse this system in terms of what its original purpose was to be on the UC,” Huesa said.
The amendment would have redefined communities of interest as “groups that have been historically underrepresented and marginalized on Harvard’s campus,” more narrowly defining what types of caucuses could exist within the Council. According to Huesa, the amendment would not have allowed certain types of caucuses — such as politically-affiliated ones — to form at all.
“I think that when the legislation was originally created it was understood that this is what we were talking about,” Palaniappan said. “Only in the recent past couple months, we’ve seen the buildup of caucuses that are kind of not surrounding these purposes.”
Dunster House Representative Gevin B. Reynolds ’19 then suggested further changes to the amendment, aiming to allow the UC to dismantle current caucuses that do not conform to the proposed narrowed definition.
The Council accepted that alteration before voting on the overall amendment, which was rejected in a narrow 11-12-5 vote.
Dunster House Representative Janani Krishnan-Jha ’20, a proponent of the amendment, argued that the existence of some causes diminishes the issues faced by marginalized communities. She cited the “problem-solvers” caucus, a group of self-declared creative thinkers who abide by current caucus definitions.
“You don’t want to have the students believe that the UC thinks that being a problem-solver on this campus has the same weight as being African-American,” she said.
Opponents of the amendment argued that the legislation was specifically intended to target the conservative caucus. Oak Yard Representative A. Blake Barclay ’22 and UC Secretary Cade S. Palmer ’20, a former Crimson Sports Chair, both said members of the executive board antagonized the conservative caucus.
“This legislation is a direct attack against the conservative caucus,” Barclay said. “This is not to compare the experience of a conservative to any other groups at all.”
Eliot House Representative Maxwell A. Gillmer ’21, the newly appointed director of belonging and inclusion for the Council, originally supported the amendment but changed his vote after hearing concerns about the conservative caucus.
“As the director of belonging and inclusion, I want people to feel that they are included, especially within this space, so I don’t want there to be legislation that makes someone feel excluded,” he said.
Following the defeat of the caucus redefinition amendment, Palmer proposed the Caucus Removal Act to entirely remove the caucus system from the Council. Liaising with underrepresented groups, if the act had passed, would instead have fallen under the purview of the director of belonging and inclusion.
In a vocal vote, the UC overwhelmingly rejected the Caucus Removal Act.
Gilmer said he did not think one person could handle the responsibility the caucus system currently supports.
“Do you know how many cultural organizations there are on campus?” Gilmer asked. “There are 77, and a lot for only one person to have direct contact with, so that's why the caucuses are especially important.”
Krishnan-Jha said she felt the notion that the caucus system had no benefits was incorrect.
“I think it holds us accountable for representing the interests of this student population,” she said. “If we get rid of it, there's no accountability. There's no metric by which we can say we're doing something for these communities of interest.”
— Staff writer Kevin R. Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Staff writer Laura C. Espinoza can be reached at email@example.com.