On September 20, the Crimson staff published an editorial titled “Don’t Waste Your Time,” cautioning women at Harvard from running for the Undergraduate Council. Their reason for suggesting this is that the UC is, in their words, a “failed institution.” As a freshman that has been part of the Harvard community for only a short time, I will reserve judgment as to whether the Crimson is correct about the UC’s ineffectiveness; however, if the UC has indeed fallen short of its duties as our student government, constructive criticism and an active effort to improve the UC would be far better than the Crimson staff’s recommendation that women ought to abandon it.
The Crimson staff’s argument in this editorial is static at best, lacking any kind of contribution to the betterment of the Harvard community. I am reminded of a simple, yet critical, springboard for the maintenance of an efficient and healthy democracy: citizens that act like they have a stake in the future of their country. In contrast to this idea, the Crimson staff has presented a defeatist attitude about the future of an institution at the core of our student body: it doesn’t work, so leave it to rot.
But student government won’t just dissolve or rot away someday because its constituents turn their back on it, just as the US government won’t suddenly break down due to lower voter turnout. Rather, it will become increasingly less representative of the student body, evaporating all remnants of potential and promise. And I cannot help but believe that, if in fact the UC is broken, we as a Harvard community have played at least some role in this, perhaps because many of us have done nothing to fix it, have complained about it as opposed to giving constructive feedback, and have adopted the very negative sentiments and recommendations that the Crimson staff has laid out in their editorial.
So how do we break the cycle? Diversity is at least part of the answer. Having a student government that is representative of the population it serves will not only foment a stronger connection between students and their representatives, but will also allow the UC to more effectively deliver the voice of the student body. Harvard’s women can help improve the UC by doing exactly the opposite of what the Crimson has told them to do. As a female student that ran for the UC this year, I am outraged and disappointed that the Crimson would so undermine the positive effects of having more female representation on the UC. In fact, who knows whether the “failure” of the UC actually stemmed from the very fact that there is a gender imbalance in the representation?
Throughout my time as a student, I will be evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Undergraduate Council. In the meantime, however, I am excited and willing to put my trust in the words and promises of my male and female peers newly elected to the UC this year. I believe that it is precisely this type of trust that both encourages and pressures our representatives to perform at their best. We are considered by many to be some of the best and brightest students in the nation. So when the aspiring leaders of tomorrow are already writing disillusioned articles deterring people from fixing a system that’s apparently broken, I’d say that is the real waste of time.
photo credit: Jason A. Samfield