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UC Leaders Cheng and de Kanter Apologize for Using ‘Defund’ and ‘Abolish’ in Campaign for New Student Government

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Following sustained criticism from Undergraduate Council members, UC President Michael Y. Cheng ’22 and Vice President Emmett E. de Kanter ’24 formally apologized last Friday for using “defund” and “abolish” as slogans in their campaign calling for Harvard College's student government to be restructured and renamed.

Cheng and de Kanter vowed to “defund” and “abolish” the UC during their campaign to lead the body last fall, and they have continued using the slogans in the months since they were elected. But some Council members have called their language inappropriate given its roots with Black racial justice organizers.

The pair posted a video apology via a shared Instagram account.

“You have rightfully raised concerns about our use of the terms ‘defund’ and ‘abolish,’” Cheng said in the video.

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“These are words that have been used and continue to be used by organizers — especially Black organizers,” de Kanter added. “It is not something to be taken lightly.”

The apology came just days before the start of a school-wide referendum vote on a proposed new constitution that would dismantle and replace the Council. Cheng spearheaded the effort to propose the new structure, deemed the “Harvard Undergraduate Association.”

In the video posted Friday, Cheng and de Kanter vowed to immediately stop using the words “defund” and “abolish” in favor of the word “reimagine.”

The anonymous Instagram account @harvardknowyourvote, which has taken aim at Cheng and the proposed new constitution in recent days, questioned the timing of the apology and called on students to boycott this week’s constitutional referendum.

“You are apologizing because it is politically convenient. Not because you care,” the caption of one post reads.

Maple Yard UC Representative Jada Pierre ’25, a longtime critic of Cheng’s use of the terms, said she appreciated the gesture, but added that it was long overdue.

“It took a really long time,” Pierre said. “But I’m glad he recognized the problem, and I’m so grateful because honestly accountability is all I asked for.”

Pierre expressed dissatisfaction with the delivery.

“That is one of the most disingenuous apologies that I have ever seen,” she said. “I don’t like how they fail to acknowledge that they dismissed this problem before.”

In response to criticisms of his apology, Cheng pointed to a portion of the video response where de Kanter addressed the timing.

“This message is overdue, and we apologize for that,” de Kanter said in the video, adding that he had been stuck out of the country due to a Covid-19 infection.

—Staff writer J. Sellers Hill can be reached at sellers.hill@thecrimson.com.

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