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Five pairs of candidates for the Harvard Undergraduate Association co-presidency presented their platforms and discussed club funding and changes to the body at a debate held in Sever Hall Sunday afternoon.
The debate was hosted by the Harvard Political Review and moderated by HPR editors Jacqui R. Schlesinger ’26 and Jonah B. Simon ’26. The candidates — Jonathan Berkowitz ’24 and Spencer W. Glassman ’23-’24, Zachary J. Lech ’24 and Ivan O.A. Specht ’24, Bobby F. Current ’24 and Rohan C. Shah ’24, Ethan C. Kelly ’25 and Laila A. Nasher ’25, and John S. Cooke ’25 and Shikoh M. Hirabayashi ’24 — presented their platforms and responded to questions from moderators and audience members at the event.
This month’s vote will mark the second-ever HUA presidential election, which comes after the student body voted to disband its 40-year-old student government — the Undergraduate Council — in 2022.
During the debate, each pair of candidates pledged to increase club funding, though they proposed slightly varying methodologies for doing so. The HUA received $550,000 from the Dean of Students Office for the 2022-2023 academic year, marking a 10 percent increase from funding under the UC.
Berkowitz and Glassman pledged to increase the HUA’s pool of funds by pushing the administration to extend financial aid to the student activities fee, a $200 annual charge paid by students to fund undergraduate organizations and student life.
Currently, the fee can be waived, but it is not covered by financial aid.
“We want the HUA to serve the students and not to serve itself,” Berkowitz said. “So a lot of times people come to the HUA with their own initiatives, and direct all the HUA funding towards the HUA’s own things, but what we want to do is we want to prioritize the clubs, and we want to prioritize all the students.”
Lech and Specht said they would increase the percentage of the HUA budget that is devoted to clubs, adding that they would prioritize funding groups whose events are open to the entire student body.
“We should especially prioritize minorities and, in my opinion, cultural affinity groups because well, they are far far away from home, they need a home here,” said Lech, a Crimson arts editor. “It’s important to look at things that are going to have a bigger impact on the community itself.”
Meanwhile, Kelly and Nasher promised to allocate all HUA funding to clubs. During the 2022-2023 academic year, roughly 81 percent of the HUA’s overall budget went to student organizations.
During the debate, Cooke promised to transition club funding to a week-by-week basis and institute a money-back guarantee so “all unused funds from any other HUA organizational group go directly back into the pockets of student organizations.”
Adding to his running mate’s response, Hirabayashi said the pair would allocate more HUA funds toward parties and devote “a lot of money to pest control.”
Cooke and Hirabayashi emphasized that they are the only pair of candidates that have previously served on the HUA.
“We know exactly what it’s going to take to get work done,” Cooke said. “We know exactly what the potential of this organization is, and we hope to help this organization realize its potential next year.”
Still, other candidates were critical of the student government’s first term, which drew mixed reviews from some students.
Berkowitz said he believes “transparency is a really big problem” for the HUA and proposed a website that publishes a log of the body’s spending.
“Rather than us being some ghost body that no one knows what exactly we’re doing, every Harvard student will have access to a public domain,” he said.
Nasher, who alleged last September that the HUA rejected her group’s proposal for a diversity, equity, and inclusion team — said she and Kelly would aim to improve the experience of underrepresented groups on campus.
Nasher said first-generation low-income, LGBTQ+, and female students often feel “attacked and underrepresented” on campus, and that she hopes to address these issues if elected.
“We believe a radical change is needed in addressing how matters are actually handled,” Nasher said. “However, well, there are systems in place to ensure that continued change can happen — you just need the right leadership.”
Current voiced ideas for a substantially different version of the current government, which would include more representatives.
“Ten people can’t run a task of government,” Current said. “That’s why my main thing on everything I'm running for is to recreate a legislature but one that’s different from our last one — one that’s more representative, one that has more oversight, transparency, so everyone has more of a voice.”
Voting for the HUA co-presidency is set to open on Feb. 16 and close on Feb. 18, with official campaigning to begin at 4 p.m. on Monday.
Correction: February 13, 2023
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the HUA presidential debate took place in Sanders Theatre. In fact, the debate took place in Sever Hall.
—Staff writer Natalie K Bandura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Jonah C. Karafiol can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahkarafiol.
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