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HUA Co-Presidency Candidates Rebuke Current Leaders, Pledge Campaign Promises at Debate

Seven pairs of candidates vying for the Harvard Undergraduate Association co-presidency answered questions and pledged campaign promises during a Tuesday debate in Sever Hall.
Seven pairs of candidates vying for the Harvard Undergraduate Association co-presidency answered questions and pledged campaign promises during a Tuesday debate in Sever Hall. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Cam N. Srivastava and William Y. Tan, Crimson Staff Writers

Seven pairs of candidates vying for the Harvard Undergraduate Association co-presidency answered questions and pledged campaign promises during a debate hosted by the Harvard Political Review on Tuesday evening.

During the debate, two current HUA officers running for the co-presidency disavowed the leadership of outgoing HUA co-presidents John S. Cooke ’25 and Shikoh M. Hirabayashi ’24, both of whom face ongoing efforts to be recalled from office. The move suggests that Cooke and Hirabayashi may be facing waning support from HUA members in the last days of their term.

The HUA’s leadership turmoil heightened last week after the Fox Club expelled Cooke from the social organization over allegations of misconduct. Members of the HUA’s executive team subsequently met with the Dean of Students’ Office on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the possibility of Cooke’s resignation from the presidency.

Days later, a petition circulated calling for a vote to remove Cooke from office, receiving enough signatures to trigger a recall election. Cooke’s co-president, Hirabayashi, also faced a petition on Sunday similarly calling for a vote to remove him from office. It is unclear whether the petition against Hirabayashi will obtain the requisite votes for a recall election.

HUA Social Life Team Officer Jonathan Haileselassie ’26 and Inclusion Team Officer Ashley C. Adirika ’26 said during the debate that they “support the student-led initiative to recall” Cooke.

“We do not stand by the leadership of John or Shikoh,” Haileselassie said. “When we ran to be the Inclusion and Social Life Officers last year, we ran with only one reason in mind: like I said, it was to improve the overall experience for students on campus.”

Haileselassie’s rebuke of the HUA’s current co-presidents points to the growing fractures within the organization’s executive team, which has internally discussed the possibility of Cooke’s resignation. With less than one month left in their presidential terms, Cooke and Hirabayashi seem to be facing dwindling officer support.

During the debate, undergraduate students were allowed to submit questions to the moderators in real time, which were then screened and asked to the candidates. Every candidate pair received 45 seconds to answer each question.

After the candidates delivered their opening remarks, each pair was asked — in an apparent reference to the current HUA leadership turmoil — to discuss “ethics and accountability issues within members of its leadership” and explain how they would “ensure that such issues do not arise in the future.”

In addition to denouncing the leadership of Cooke and Hirabayashi, Adirika and Haileselassie also emphasized their distance from the two.

“Our mission has always been independent of J.C. and Shikoh,” he added. “It has been about the student body.”

Despite the pointed question about criticisms against the HUA leadership, debate moderators then told candidates not to name current members of the HUA in their responses.

During the event, Institute of Politics President Pratyush Mallick ’25 and Kevin A. Bokoum ’26 said they seek to eliminate the HUA co-presidency position altogether.

“We’re running in the simple idea that there’s no fucking role for a co-presidency,” Mallick said. “We want to eliminate it altogether.”

“There’s only two reasons why people run for president: to put it on their resume, to tout power,” he added.

Mallick and Bokoum’s calls to eliminate the HUA’s top position echoes previous efforts by Michael Y. Cheng ’22, who served as the last president of the College’s previous student government, the Undergraduate Council. Cheng resigned just days after being elected to the UC presidency, leading to its dissolution and replacement by the HUA.

Eunice S. Chon ’25-’26 — a current member of the HUA — opened her answer in a somber tone.

Holding back tears, she said that “the way that my story has been exploited, misrepresented, invalidated because of HUA politics in the past few days has been hard.”

“Regarding accountability, my brother has done what he has done to protect his team, and the way our colleagues have been tried for complacency has been heartbreaking,” she added, referring to HUA Academic Team Officer and her running mate Peter E. Chon ’26.

Other candidates, like Nathan R. Westbrook ’27 and Chase M. Bourbon ’27, spent their allotted minutes actively engaging the audience.

They led a chant of “president, president, president,” and suggested bringing Ice Spice to Yardfest in order to improve the HUA’s low approval rate — which sits at 17 percent, according to a poll conducted by the HPR.

“I think I kind of hit the nail on the head earlier with this one when I said I had no clue what the HUA was, so I feel like that could apply to a lot of people,” Bourbon said.

“What I do know is that the surveys say 100 percent of people want Ice Spice at Yardfest,” he added. “That doesn’t look like it’s happening, but Chase Bourbon, Nathan Westbrook — ‘John Harvard the 27th’ — will make it happen.”

Claire C. Swadling ’26 — whose running mate Justin Ji ’26 was not present at the debate — said if elected, the two would instate a policy requiring that all future co-presidents not include their HUA co-presidency on post-graduate applications.

Swadling also said the two would institute a seemingly implausible agenda for “a starlink satellite just for Harvard so we can have faster wifi,” as well as “a new mascot Remy” and “Chipotle in the Square.”

Adam N. Chiocco ’27, along with running mate Hayden A. Brackeen ’27, spoke about his previous experience managing large amounts of money in high school.

“I have overseen and personally allocated over $20,000 in grants to food banks and other organizations in my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania,” Chiocco said.

Kya I. Brooks ’25 and Dakota A. Degenhardt ’26 highlighted their unique role as the only ticket with two women, staking their campaign on promises to uphold Title IX policies, “fight for mental health resources,” and “support FGLI initiatives and affinity spaces” on campus.

“Once upon a time, the Harvard student government was competent — it may be hard to believe,” Brooks said.

—Staff writer Cam N. Srivastava can be reached at cam.srivastava@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @camsrivastava.

—Staff writer William Y. Tan can be reached at william.tan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @william_y_tan.

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