Seeking Council

Campaigns from Cambridge to Colorado.

Creative Commons photo by crownjewel82. Source: Flickr

“Obama for America”

“There is no HArVArd without Ava”

“Keep America American”

“Rebecca and Rory, End of Story”

Whether someone is running for President of the United States or for a spot on the Undergraduate Council, strategic campaign slogans — those that somehow manage to plant an enduring seed in your brain — are a vital part of a campaign. While President Obama and Governor Romney were arranging their plans and articulating their arguments for the presidential election, Harvard undergraduates formulated creative posters, videos, emails, and Facebook posts in an attempt to grab a seat on the Undergraduate Council.

The Harvard Undergraduate Council (UC) is a student-run committee responsible for representing student interests, funding student organizations, and fostering an active role for students on campus. “We, the undergraduates of Harvard College, are an important part of the University community, and are therefore entitled to an active role in deciding its policies and priorities,” states the preamble of the UC’s 2012 Constitution and Bylaws. Like the US government, the UC strives to be the voice of the people it represents.

However, unlike the United States government, the UC doesn’t give candidates a formal opportunity to give speeches or engage in debate. How, then does a UC candidate get his or her views and plans across, and more importantly, how can voters make a truly educated decision in electing candidates with whom they are probably completely unfamiliar (and who can’t simply be looked up on Google)? UC candidate Ava Nasro ‘16 — who later went on to win an Oak Yard seat — proposed several ideas. “We have to advertise and place those advertisements in strategic areas; it’s important to focus on visual posters and write quick but effective slogans.”

Freshmen running for the UC face a particularly difficult obstacle in creating a powerful campaign because the majority of the student body has not heard of them. Unlike upperclassmen, freshmen can’t rely strictly on dorm pride because a “Yard” is composed of more than one dorm and a dorm is divided further into entryways. “Instead of focusing on one House, I had to target all of Oak Yard and insert myself into the community even though I wasn’t part of the dorm or the entryway, and I had to find the delicate balance between getting my name out there and avoiding annoying other people,” said Nasro.

Because psychology suggests that most people are inclined to vote for a candidate familiar or similar to them, becoming elected as a freshman marks a truly successful campaign.

The UC elected forty-three new members last week. Each candidate proposed an individual interpretation of being a part of this cohesive organization while bringing forth innovative ideas and suggestions to the community he or she represents. “I questioned what the specific complaints of each dorm or entryway were so that I would be able to serve the entire Yard,” stated Nasro when asked what she believes may have caused those not in her entryway to support her.

The UC underscores the importance of a functioning and involved council that would – through fair elections – select undergraduates to be voices of their communities. By doing so, it seems, in many ways, analogous to our government. Although the UC is governed by its Constitution and Bylaws, it would be misleading to call it a small-scale replica of real world politics. The UC is a committee, one in which candidates do not have the opportunity to get their voice across to the electorate in a formal debate or speech. Despite this lack of communicative lines, the candidates running for the UC have been able to embrace this unique-to-Harvard system and form successful campaigns.

Albert Murzakhanov ’16 (amurzakhanov@college) volunteers to moderate the first UC debate, because 200 freshmen yelling at each other over Annenberg hours sounds like a good idea. 

  • Robert

    The UC presidential debate was so civil compared to the US presidential one.