Whether you eagerly open every campaign email or steer clear of them altogether, the Undergraduate Council's Presidential election marks a critical time for all of us. Despite the perennial claims that the UC is ineffective or inefficient — claims which are often leveled at local and federal government alike — we believe in the importance of student government and the voices it uplifts. Moreover, the habits we build now, as future leaders in government, business, law, medicine, public service, and academia, will shape how we understand and value the sanctity of elections and democratic processes. We must all vote in the UC Presidential election to not only elect leadership that represents all of us but also, perhaps, more importantly, establish habits and a mindset of civic engagement that we will carry forward into our post-grad futures.
Though our time at Harvard is limited, as undergraduates we have the power to enact sweeping change in an otherwise slow-moving institution. To do so is not an easy task and without our community's trust and active participation, the Undergraduate Council cannot progress toward a collective vision of the campus and society we deserve.
One of the most critical roles of the Undergraduate Council is to elevate the student voice in rooms full of deans and administrators, many of whom cannot fully grasp the challenges of the student experience. Whether it's funding over 200 recognized student organizations, advocating for inclusive social spaces, or supporting first-generation and low-income students, the UC is constantly working to adapt to the changing needs and interests of the student body. As recently as 40 years ago, faculty and administration members "represented" the students, making decisions and allocating funding on their behalf. For reasons we hope that all can understand, we believe that students are best suited to serve students — not administrators.
And we’ve seen what the UC can accomplish. Without the UC's advocacy, fall semester exams would fall after winter break. Undergraduates might not have experienced Shopping Week past fall 2018. None of us would have the Smith Campus Center to study and gather in. During the virtual year, Harvard extended the pass-fail deadline following pressure from the UC. YardFest wouldn’t exist. However, the UC is only as strong as the people who invest in it. That posits an equal amount of responsibility in every student: from voter to elected leader. We must all do our part and vote.
We often hear that our Harvard education is intended to prepare us for the "real world," implying that our experiences here are not real. However, we are living in the real world. The issues we tackle in classrooms, in social spaces, in student organizations here at Harvard are issues that occupy conversations at a societal level. We will contend with these issues throughout our lives.
The UC recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and at this moment of reflection, we can look at the problems that we’ve tackled in the past and the problems of our future. Whether it be pushing for a freshmen social space, facilitating discussions about inclusive visual culture and renaming, analyzing comp processes and blocking, or easing barriers to accessing academic, health, or student life resources for low-income students, the UC continues to work for the student body. At the core of these advocacy efforts lie issues of inequity, injustice, and exclusivity — tied to long histories of oppression. For the past 40 years, the UC has pushed for more equitable, just, and inclusive processes across every facet of the student experience.
We see in the discussion surrounding the UC's Presidential election a reflection of a larger, national conversation about the legitimacy of democratic processes. We would do a great injustice to de-value the importance of our elections and the subsequent representation of student voices. How we choose to engage in our communities, whether or not we vote, and who we vote to represent us shape our collective futures. By investing in our fellow students and instilling value in free and fair elections, we are building the habits we will need to strive for a "more just, fair, and promising world."
We must value our right to carefully choose leaders who we trust and who care about our community. The UC Presidential election ends this week, and candidates are vying for your vote. Regardless of who you support, you should participate because, regardless of size, elections have consequences. It has been an honor to serve as your President and Vice President, and we hope you’ll join us one last time in Building Tomorrow’s Harvard.
Noah A. Harris ’22 is a Government concentrator in Dunster House and the President of the Harvard Undergraduate Council. Jenny Y. Gan ’22 is a Neuroscience concentrator in Leverett House and the Vice President of the Harvard Undergraduate Council.