The Undergraduate Council voted to endorse an open letter from the College’s Black Community Leaders and an act to match the “Black solidarity” donations of Harvard undergraduate students during an emergency meeting Saturday afternoon.
UC President James A. Mathew ’21 and Vice President Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 called the emergency session to debate the two action items in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered by Minneapolis police on May 25.
Council treasurer Noah Harris ’22 and Ivy Yard representative Chloe E. V. Koulefianou ’23, alongside Mathew and White-Thorpe, sponsored both bills.
“Instead of writing a statement of our own, we thought it would be the most productive to allow the BCL to write their statement as this is their community that has been harmed, the community that they represent,” Harris said. “And we decided that we lead from behind in a supportive manner, and I think that's the goal the UC should be prioritizing in several other related incidents.”
The act to endorse the BCL’s statement passed with unanimous consent. The other bill, which would have initially matched student donations up to $1,000, brought about more discussion from council members.
During deliberations, UC Finance Committee chair Rukmini “Mini” Ganesh ’22 asked if the Council could match more donations.
“Basically I wanted to make sure we can give as much as possible!” Ganesh wrote to the Council’s remote meeting chatbox. “How much is in the fund, and can we give more than $1,000 if there is more?”
Ganesh’s inquiry prompted a quick reaction from Elm Yard representative Brooke L. Livingston ’23, who moved to amend the legislation twice, increasing the donation match amount up to $2,500 and then up to $5,000.
Livingston’s amendment passed with 17 votes in favor and three abstentions. Twenty council members were present for the meeting, with a quorum set at 14 members.
Shortly after the meeting, Mathew and White-Thorpe sent out a College-wide email announcing that they would “match up to $5,000 in donations from the student body” through a GoFundMe fundraiser and equally distribute the funds to six charities committed to issues of racial justice.
“All donations collected through our GoFundMe will be equally distributed among a number of charities, selected by the BCL [Black Community Leaders],” Mathew and White-Thorpe wrote. “These charities include: the Black Visions Collective, Reclaim the Block, North Star Health Collective, Louisville Bail Fund, Minnesota Freedom Fund, and the Atlanta Bail Fund.”
Matthew S. Miller ’21, a member of Mathew and White-Thorpe’s executive cabinet and a Quincy House representative, worked closely with Harris and Koulefianou in crafting the initiative to match donations.
“I messaged him and said, ‘Noah, what do you think about potentially matching donations among the student body?’” Miller said. “And he's like, ‘yeah, I think that's a good idea, like, fiscally, it checks out,’ and so because I'm not a member, I’m just on the executive cabinet, Noah and Chloe handled the writing of the affirmation of the statement as well as the matching donations.”
Council members said they were satisfied with the body’s actions, seeing the mobilization in the aftermath of Floyd’s death as an opportunity for the UC to take on a larger role in backing student activist organizations.
“I think there's a deeper meaning there, which is also kind of showing that like, the UC, at least is now trying to amplify student voices, encourage people to get involved, but also back them up when they do,” Miller said. “So, I think the matching donations
can be used as kind of a nice way to make it seem like the UC is encouraging people to get involved, but also putting its money where its mouth is and also getting involved as an entity.”
Representative Janna E. Ramadan ’23 noted that she was pleased to see the Council act in a way that she has never witnessed before during her time on the UC.
“And then also seeing that we are matching the funds also shows that you put your money where your mouth is, right?” Ramadan said. “So, it makes me really happy that we're making steps and recognizing activism and also taking part in this way.”
—Staff writer Kevin A. Simauchi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @simauchi.