Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Lucas Chu - Story of Us

"We hereby reconstitute an undergraduate government to represent student interests; to secure an active role for students in deciding official policies and priorities; to safeguard academic freedom and student rights, and to affirm the student citizens dignity and worth; to promote and fund student groups and organizations; and thereby promote student morale and interaction; and finally, to serve as a campus-wide forum for the expression and exchange of student ideas and opinions.” - UC Constitution

Each Yard and House of Harvard has 3 Representatives. With an additional seat for the President, Vice President, and Dudley community, the UC has 51 members, which are sorted into a number of standing committees, each with a designated area of oversight.

The Executive Board
The Executive Board constitutes the Undergraduate Council’s core leadership structure. 

Academic Life Committee
From grading policy to tuition costs, the academic life committee has a strong record advocating on behalf of the student body’s academic concerns. The UC recently published the 2021 Survey, the results of which I helped compile here

Communications Committee
The Council’s newest committee, the Communications Committee (Comms) serves the Council as it manages the Council’s communication with the student body including email communications, the UC website, and its social media platforms. Ever wonder where that email you sent to goes? The answer starts with the Comms Committee. This is the committee of interest. I learned some communications best practices from Communications Chair Yousuf Bakshi, which I put together in a slideshow

The Finance Committee
In addition to special projects like creating concentrations, signing petitions, and providing support, the UC funds nearly all student organizations on campus through its over $500,000 annual budget. Easily the largest and most complex committee, the UC Finance Committee (FiCom) manages the Council’s club grant application process, maintains the funding policy guide, tracks club spending, and advocates for funding from Harvard administration. If it has a dollar sign, the chances are that FiCom was there from proposal to execution. I presented an analysis of funding and a set of recommendations for improving transparency, which I ironically cannot share due to data concerns.

First Year Class Committee
The First Year Class Committee (FYCC) is the first home for the first-year representatives elected to the Undergraduate Council. Described as a "Dream Committee" and often the tightest knit committee on the council, FYCC has been responsible for spearheading many key projects throughout the Council's history as well as serving as an incubator for young leaders on campus.

Health, Safety, & Wellness Committee
The Health, Safety, & Wellness Committee (HSW) has a long track record of working toward the advancement of student wellbeing, including their advocacy of improved mental health resources and wider accessibility of feminine hygiene products.

Social and Residential Life Committee
From house life and advising projects to summer storage and on-campus transportation, the Social and Residential Life Committee (SRL) has you covered. 

The Rules Committee
The Rules Committee serves as the Council’s center for the procedure and internal policy, reviewing and updating the Council’s essential documents: our Constitution and Bylaws. Also playing a crucial role in the club recognition process, the Rules Committee serves as another point of contact between the Council and Harvard’s extracurricular community.


The Guiding Theory of the UC

Administrative progressives like Edward Thorndike employed a scientific curriculum which saw students as “apprentice adults” (Labaree, 2005). On the other hand, pedagogical progressives like John Dewey, advocated for individualized education for students to pursue creative, original thoughts. Both pedagogies miss the input of the actual recipients of students. As Paolo Freire argues, students need to be critical of the structures that help shape them (Freire, 1970) as learners and agents of education. This is what the UC does.

The UC's guiding theory of change is that by providing students the framework and connections to connect with each other and administration, we can give students a greater voice in their educational experience. Through individualized attention and work, participants begin to feel like active stakeholders and leaders of their organizations beyond their immediate members. In particular, members can share their successes and learnings to create a public set of records and recommendations for current and future leaders to learn from. In turn, they will engage more critically with their organizations and take it upon themselves to improve the quality of their organization, improving their engagement and education. 

At Harvard, quarantine seemed to remove most possibilities for serendipitous or formal interactions between students across the University. In response to the physical and social disconnection of students, Dean Khurana announced the “Harvard Everywhere” project “to reinvent the full range of Harvard co-curricular activities and resources”, which has been criticized by The Crimson for a lack of follow-up. As a result, organizations have had to rely on email more. For example, the mailing list for the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA), the college center for student public service organizations, has had an average of over five emails per day this semester, more than a fivefold increase.

Spring 2020

In response to the difficulties of communicating online, the UC instituted a new committee in its Constitution and Bylaws, the Communications committee, “with the purpose of improving publicity campaigns and communications efforts with the student body”. At the same time, the UC website was entirely rebuilt to facilitate greater transparency and accountability to the student body, complete with meeting links, minutes, materials as well as guides to resources, committees, and funding. Furthermore, the UC automated the club grant application process with real-time grant estimates. Notably, the Council held its first ever summer session in order to support the undergraduate body of Harvard College amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fall 2020

Of over seventy total proposed pieces of legislation accounting for over three hundred thousand dollars and over 16 direct messages to the entire student body, only one was ultimately not passed. On average, a piece of legislation had 2.83 sponsors, 2.61 co-sponsors, and 5.44 total sponsors or co-sponsors.

Spring 2021

In the midst of a flurry of legislation, I joined. As part of the UC, I realized three things

  1. that most student groups have a much hard time getting meetings with administrators, even though they are more in tune with the needs of their respective communities. 

  2. the funding system is inefficient. Funds are not well-documented in terms of receipts, so the Council doesn’t know how they are spent. Furthermore, interviews are “low-contact”. After the first 15-30 minute meeting, there is no personalized follow-up: when clubs hold their events, the UC simply reimburses them. This is unfortunate, as clubs often develop innovative ways to maximize their limited budgets, and a lack of transparency encourages distrust and misuse of student funds. 

  3. These issues are universal across clubs and colleges. In particular, students often wished that Admin could more effectively communicate and for a hub for student leaders to converse and learn from each other and admin (workshops).

To come up with an action plan to improve communication between student leaders, I conducted subject matter expert interviews with organizations that have developed their own platforms, like the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. More importantly, I met with PBH Center Assistant Dean Lovett and Dean Julie Reuben, Dean of Students Office Assistant Dean Lauren Brandt, and UC Vice President Jenny Gan. In addition, I contributed to A New Harvard, report based on the 2021 student survey, building off the 2020 report. Read on to learn more!

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