Mathew and White-Thorpe Say ‘Harvard Can’t Wait’ For Policy Proposals

James A. Mathew ’21 and Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 are running to be Undergraduate Council President and Vice-President, respectively, because they believe “Harvard Can’t Wait” to empower students to make change on issues like diversity and student life.
By Stephanie H. Ashkar and Benjamin L. Fu

The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Camus Center.
The Undergraduate Council meets in the Smith Camus Center. By Caleb D. Schwartz

James A. Mathew ’21 and Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 are running to be Undergraduate Council President and Vice-President, respectively, because they believe “Harvard Can’t Wait” to empower students to make change on issues like diversity and student life.

Mathew, a junior in Mather House, is concentrating in Sociology with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. He currently serves as Chief of Inclusion and Belonging on the UC Executive Cabinet. White-Thorpe, a junior in Leverett House, is concentrating in Government with a secondary field in Human Evolutionary Biology. Having served on three UC committees, she is currently the UC’s head of communications and chair of its Black Caucus.

During their campaign, Mathew and White-Thorpe organized a “Music and Mingle” event, featuring performances by student artists. They also attended the UC Presidential Debate hosted by the Harvard Political Union on Saturday evening. Mathew and White-Thorpe declined to comment for this article.

The pair’s campaign aims to improve several areas of the undergraduate student experience at Harvard, including supports for students from underrepresented backgrounds and first-generation, low-income students; sexual assault prevention and response; and health, safety, and wellness.

Diversity Along All Lines

A portion of Mathew and White-Thorpe’s campaign seeks to foster inclusion among the student body and empower students of different genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

In his opening statement at the HPU debate, Mathew said his and White-Thorpe’s ticket promotes diversity across multiple lines and will encourage inclusion and belonging on campus.

“As an Indian-American man, alongside Ify, an African-American woman, we are the only ticket on this stage that identifies differently in our cultural background as well as our gender,” Mathew said. “Now, provided that we are the most diverse ticket, we can begin to reimagine what inclusion, belonging, and diversity might look like on this campus.”

Mathew also called for institutional support for undocumented students.

“We want to expand inclusion and belonging, so not just culture and race, as we feel the UC mostly focuses on, but also socioeconomic inclusion, inclusion for LGBTQ+ students as well as institutional support for undocumented students,” Mathew said at the debate Saturday.

On their campaign website, Mathew and White-Thorpe detail a plan to support first-generation, low-income students by adding a permanent director of the First-Year Retreat and Experience program and allocating funding for unexpected financial emergencies.

The plan also includes subsidizing daily expenses for first-generation and low-income students and increasing the current start-up grant — a subsidy given to low-income families in addition to existing financial aid — to $1000 per semester.

Discussion and Decision-Making

Mathew and White-Thorpe have also focused their campaign on fostering student participation in UC initiatives.

The pair has proposed forming a Unity Caucus, a group within the UC that would include members of the Council and outside students to help form legislation and collaborate on other projects.

“Our proposal for the Unity Caucus is essentially the first proposal that really brings students outside of the UC en masse into the folds of the UC,” White-Thorpe said at the HPU debate. “It presents more seats at the table and amplifies student voices so that they can advocate for themselves.”

Mathew and White-Thorpe put forward a proposal for a Community Conversation series where members of campus affinity groups can discuss challenges their members face.

“This caucus would be composed of students from various affinity groups, various communities,” White-Thorpe said at Saturday’s debate. “We would have a Black Caucus, Latinx Caucus, Asian American Caucus, et cetera — expand on what the UC already has, but bring everyone into the fold, really bring the student body into the UC.”

The pair also supports turning a floor in the Smith Campus Center into a “multicultural floor,” with the ultimate goal of creating a standalone multicultural center. At the HPU debate, White-Thorpe said she has already been in conversation with administrators about designating a floor in the center.

Students have pushed the University to create a multicultural center for decades, though Harvard has rejected the idea time and time again. Only in recent years has the University accepted proposals to research the feasibility of a multicultural center on campus; former Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III believed such a center would create a division among students.

At the HPU debate, other UC candidates questioned the practicality of a multicultural center.

“The reality is that students have been working for years to get the administration to have a multicultural center in the Smith Center — dedicated students — and it hasn’t happened, so I just don’t believe that’s an achievable goal for a UC administration,” UC vice presidential candidate Case McKinley ’21 said.

Mathew and White-Thorpe are also seeking to promote student participation outside of the UC. On their website, they outline proposals to increase UC grants to fund student projects, create a student activities calendar, and improve attendance at athletic events.

‘Innovative’ Solutions for Challenging Problems

Mathew and White-Thorpe have centered their campaign around solving persistent campus problems with more “proactive” and “innovative” solutions.

“We intend to create solutions wherever there is a need, whether it be around academic advising, internship opportunities, or wellness,” their website reads. “If a solution already exists, our goal is to make it more accessible.”

At the HPU debate, Mathew and White-Thorpe highlighted their experiences creating student organizations. Mathew is the president and co-founder of 21 Colorful Crimson, a student music group, and White-Thorpe founded the Black Premedical Society, a student organization that aims to expose its members to opportunities in health and medicine.

Mathew and White-Thorpe have also proposed solutions to combat issues of mental health and sexual assault on campus.

Mathew said the duo are advocating to shorten appointment waiting times at Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Services.

“We feel that CAMHS needs to improve its policies,” Mathew said. “There shouldn’t be the type of waiting times that there are in the current administration to get an appointment at their most dire hour of need, and so we want to advocate to change that.”

HUHS spokesperson Michael Perry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pair also proposed promoting initiatives that encourage social connections to prevent mental health issues.

To combat sexual misconduct on campus, Mathew and White-Thorpe have proposed providing more rape kits through HUHS or other organizations on campus, granting money to House Committees to plan programming to discuss sexual assault prevention, and institutionalizing April as sexual assault awareness month, according to their website.

Results from a climate survey by the Association of American Universities regarding sexual misconduct revealed that around a third of Harvard undergraduate women experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual contact in their time at the University.

Mathew and White-Thorpe also aim to improve academic advising and reforming the joint concentration thesis requirement by eliminating the need to be approved by both departments. They propose creating a pre-arts track and providing more tutoring for student-athletes, according to their website.

White-Thorpe said at Saturday’s debate that they are the best ticket to tackle some of the University’s most enduring problems.

“As you’ve seen and as we’ve seen, there are many changes that need to take place on this campus, and that’s why we say that Harvard can’t wait,” White-Thorpe said.

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