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Harvard Graduate Council Creates Student Lobbying Body

GSAS
Lehman Hall, the home of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. GSAS is one of Harvard's 12 graduate schools.

The Harvard Graduate Council has created a lobbying body, the External Advocacy Committee, to advocate for local, state, and federal policies supporting graduate student rights.

HGC, the University’s most comprehensive student government body, comprises representatives from all twelve of the graduate schools. The EAC will streamline the HGC’s responses to proposed policies — both at the University and in the political arena — that could negatively impact Harvard’s graduate student population.

Before the EAC, such a response fell on the shoulders of one member, who then had to draft statements and submit them for voting at HGC meetings. The process could take up to two months, according to Chair of Finance Kelly E. Menjivar.

The EAC is Menjivar’s “brainchild,” according to HGC Chair of Advocacy Franklin “Tre” D. Tennyson III. In HGC’s 2017-2018 term, Menjivar led fellow representatives to create a lobbying- and student advocacy- focused branch. After voting to alter their bylaws in fall 2018, HGC was able to pass the EAC’s governing charter earlier this spring.

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The EAC will officially start its activities next fall.

The new committee will have three boards manned by graduate students nominated from each of the 12 graduate schools. One board will research federal politics affecting graduate students, a second will research local and state policies, and a third will draft response statements.

“[The EAC] allows us to have people who are dedicated to filtering all the information coming out of society, and then kind of investigate how these things may impact life here at Harvard,” said Tennyson, author of the EAC’s charter.

When a policy is flagged as potentially worthy of response, the EAC will draft a statement, get approval from the HGC’s president and chair of advocacy, and publish the statement on HGC’s website. The EAC will also send the statement to the relevant politician who can address the issue.

The EAC’s statements will be governed by a platform drafted and approved this spring that details the issues on which the EAC is allowed to comment. Such issues include First Amendment rights, discriminatory policies, subsidized graduate student healthcare and childcare, Title IX issues, and protections for international students.

Because the HGC is not a political body, the EAC must tread a fine line when issuing its statements, Tennyson said.

“When I say ‘lobbying,’ that word is loaded with the idea that there are interests that are politically motivated. We are very careful to stay clear of that. Our interests pertain exclusively to graduate student life here at Harvard,” he said. “But we want to be very cautious of the fact that we represent students coming from very different backgrounds, very different ideologies.”

Menjivar first got the idea to create an advocacy committee in 2017 from then-HGC president Kevin Tian. She then sought the help of MIT’s graduate council in creating the EAC.

“We worked with [them] on being able to see how the equivalent of the EAC at MIT was working and how we could perhaps do better,” Menjivar said. “We borrowed the platform from MIT and presented it to the HGC, and MIT allowed us to use and modify their platform.”

Menjivar said she hopes MIT’s graduate council and HGC will work together in the future to release joint statements because such statements have “more reach and more impact.” She said this may happen as soon as the 2020-2021 academic year.

When asked about what the EAC could have done over the 2018-2019 academic year, Menjivar was quick to answer.

“For one, DACA,” Menjivar said. “For the amount of students it would have affected at Harvard and how these students felt, we would have been able to support our community. That would have been ideal.”

—Staff writer Luke A. Williams can be reached at luke.williams@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @LukeAWilliams22.

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