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GSAS Student Council Fills Four of Six Top Posts as Unopposed Candidate is Turned Away

Lehman Hall, at the intersection of Harvard Yard and Harvard Square, is the center of student life for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Lehman Hall, at the intersection of Harvard Yard and Harvard Square, is the center of student life for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Paton D. Roberts, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: May 8, 2022 at 12:17 a.m.

Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Student Council members voted to fill four of six chair positions at their monthly meeting Wednesday night.

After a welcome from incoming council president Zachary Lim, the council discussed the status of special students, who study at GSAS without pursuing a degree program and must petition to join the student council. The council voted, with 85 percent in favor, to automatically include special students and visiting fellows among its members.

The remainder of the meeting was reserved for elections filling several chair positions.

The election for the chair of support — a role responsible for overseeing grants to GSAS students for research and conferences — was the most contested position, with 10 students running. Jonathan Boretsky, a Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics, and Lena C. O’Flynn, a Ph.D. candidate in Medical Sciences, each received 39 percent of the vote. Ultimately, Lim decided to allow them to work as co-chairs for the upcoming academic year.

History Ph.D. candidate Oluwaseyi “Shae” Ominjo and Human Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. candidate Sophie A. Barton, running unopposed for the positions of treasurer and chair of communications, respectively, both won with overwhelming support.

Kody Christiansen, a student at the Harvard Extension School and in GSAS’ Special Students Program, ran for chair of recognition and won with 89 percent of the vote. He will be responsible for aiding the council’s acknowledgement of outstanding graduate students.

“A huge part of the GSC’s work is to recognize good work that is done in GSAS,” Lim said.

With no one running for chair of technology, the position will remain open until the fall.

The election for chair of advocacy, who serves as a liaison between GSAS students and administrators, featured just one contender —Sociology Ph.D. candidate Aaron Benavidez — but was marred by controversy.

In an initial vote, the council was split evenly between abstentions and votes in favor of Benavidez. Following a second vote, 53 percent of council members chose to abstain rather than elect him.

Lim alleged Benavidez has “a history” of dropping out of student organizations when student leaders have “overwhelmingly disagreed” with his advocacy positions. He added Benavidez then continued to advocate for the positions by himself.

“My concern is that, how are we to operate as a team if our chair of advocacy doesn't listen to the rest of us?” Lim said. “You think that that would be productive for our team?”

Benavidez responded that he believes individuals should have the discretion to take “reasonable” action on their own.

“I think there is room for advocacy that can be a part of conversation, but it sounds like there's also room for people to move forward in a direction that seems reasonable,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, Benavidez criticized the election results, which he described as the “work of an oligarchy.”

“This didn't feel very democratic,” he said.

The position will remain open until the council holds additional elections in its first meeting this fall.

—Staff writer Paton D. Roberts can be reached at paton.roberts@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @paton_dr.

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Student GroupsStudent LifeGSAS