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After Low-Turnout Election, Khurana Says Undergraduate Council Remains a Vital Partner for Administrators

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, pictured in his office in February, said in a Friday interview that he views the Undergraduate Council as a conduit between administrators and students.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, pictured in his office in February, said in a Friday interview that he views the Undergraduate Council as a conduit between administrators and students. By Amanda Y. Su
By Juliet E. Isselbacher and Amanda Y. Su, Crimson Staff Writers

As the Undergraduate Council’s leadership turns over, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Friday interview that he views the group as a conduit between administrators and students.

Noah A. Harris ’22 and Jenny Y. Gan ’22 — the UC president and vice president elect — ran on a platform of “Building Tomorrow’s Harvard.” Their vision centered around promoting diversity and inclusion, re-invigorating students’ social life, and bolstering resources for health and wellness. They will take office in December, replacing outgoing UC President James A. Mathew ’21 and Vice President Ifeoma E. “Ify” White-Thorpe ’21.

Just over 1500 students, representing around a quarter of the undergraduate student body, voted in last week’s UC election. The low turnout followed a year of discontent with Mathew and White-Thorpe for struggling to meet challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

When asked about the low turnout, Khurana emphasized the value the College places on civic engagement.

“I believe that civic engagement is a critical component of being a citizen and citizen leader,” he said. “That’s not just participating in national elections — it also means being active all the time in your community.”

Khurana said the UC is a “critical vehicle” through which the administration hears student voices, and he acknowledged that its representatives have made concerted efforts in recent years to engage and represent undergraduates of all backgrounds.

He noted, however, that the UC is not the sole avenue through which students can communicate their needs and concerns to the administration. He cited House Committees, the Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy, and the Committee on Student Life in the Dean of Students Office.

During the campaign, Harris and Gan said they aim to support undergraduates struggling with mental health. Harris and Gan said they hope to provide students with easy access to mental health resources, especially during the pandemic.

The pair proposed adding anonymous mental health check-ins to Crimson Clear, the site through which students self-report COVID-19 symptoms or potential exposures on a daily basis.

Asked about Harris and Gan’s proposal, Khurana said ensuring students’ mental health during the pandemic is a “very high priority” for the College.

“I recognize it’s been a challenge for our students, whether they’re remote or on campus, that the pandemic has created an incredible sense of anxiety and pressure and stresses for individuals, for families and communities,” he said.

He said the College has worked with Harvard University Health Services and Counseling and Mental Health Services to share information they learn about student experiences. Khurana referred specific questions about current or potential surveys to identify student mental health challenges to HUHS.

He went on to acknowledge, however, that the pandemic has created new challenges for University staff working to support students’ mental health. He cited HUHS’s effort to navigate legal concerns regarding which services Harvard can deliver virtually and students’ challenges finding private places to speak with mental health professionals at home.

Harris said in an interview with The Crimson last week that he hopes to establish close connections with the administration, including via monthly meetings with Khurana.

Khurana said he “graciously accepts” this invitation and would welcome continuing regular meetings with the UC.

“I’m very much looking forward to working with our new UC leadership,” Khurana said. “I want to congratulate them on their election. The College very much has a partnership approach with the UC.”

—Staff writer Juliet E. Isselbacher can be reached at juliet.isselbacher@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @julietissel.

—Staff writer Amanda Y. Su can be reached at amanda.su@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandaysu.

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