The Undergraduate Council must do more to publicize its initiatives and engage students
As The Crimson reported Tuesday, 17 students declared their candidacy for the Undergraduate Council’s spring midterm elections this year, marking a precipitous drop in the number of students seeking a seat on the Council. Last year, 27 students ran in the spring midterms, and 35 ran the spring before that.
This lack of student interest in running for UC positions may, as we have previously opined, be due to the failure of the Council to serve as a vehicle for change on this campus. In the meantime, students have become engaged in other extracurricular organizations that have stepped in to fill this gap. The many different programming boards on campus, from the First-Year Social Committee to the House Committees and the College Events Board have provided students with the spaces, events, and support that the UC has not.
Similarly, various affinity groups on campus have also created important communities for students on campus. The Undergraduate Council no longer plays a meaningful role in improving student life; instead, it has been reduced to the role of a financier that funds organizations that do. We believe the decline of student interest in joining the Undergraduate Council may be attributed in part to other campus groups taking on a much more active role in improving campus life.
We do not doubt that the UC is working hard to improve student life at Harvard. Although we have qualms about the UC’s effectiveness as a whole, we appreciate the efforts that individual students are taking to improve the body. We particularly appreciate the work that is being done in response to the referendum that students passed supporting the establishment of a physical space for belonging.
We also commend the UC for changing the voting platform for this spring’s elections, which will certainly improve student engagement in voting. Indeed, having a voting platform that is easier to navigate bodes well for democracy at Harvard. Additionally, we eagerly anticipate the establishment of the UC progress bar, which will hold the body accountable as it seeks to implement election promises. Its introduction will serve as an important step forward in publicizing the UC’s initiatives and progress to students.
Nevertheless, we believe student disinterest in the UC persists despite the UC’s efforts because the Council has historically done a poor job of publicizing its actions, achievements, and elections. Although the UC organizes and funds events across campus, and bolsters other initiatives, it struggles to effectively communicate its accomplishments to the student body. Furthermore, although the UC has been transparent by opening their meetings to the student body, it has not effectively publicized these meetings or systematically encouraged students to attend.
That we feel compelled to keep writing editorials lamenting the same issue—that students are disengaged from the UC—is extremely regrettable. Despite our continuous calls for change, the UC has been unable to improve its ability to communicate its agenda to the student body. The continuous decline in student engagement in the UC represents a systematic problem with the Council that cannot be solved by a simple change of leadership.
Despite our frustration with the UC’s ability to engage students in its work, we still encourage students to vote and participate in the midterm elections. We believe that an active and empowered UC, if it existed, could serve as a focal point and platform for students to communicate their needs to the administration. Still, we need students to continue voting and attempting to initiate serious, systematic change to reach that point.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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An Opportunity for ChangeWe eagerly hope the Undergraduate Council has a substantive, didactic, and constructive campaign season this year.
Catherine L. Zhang ’19 and Nicholas D. Boucher ’19
You Can't Teach an Old Dog New TricksThe election has been relegated to insignificance at best and a subversion of democracy at worst by the UC’s poor publicity efforts and short voting period.