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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
UPDATED: November 2, 2021 at 8:15 p.m.
The Undergraduate Council passed legislation to release a statement against Harvard’s decision to hold a course preview period instead of the traditional shopping week and to establish an advocacy fund in its Sunday meeting.
The first piece of legislation called for a statement to be released against the course preview period that Harvard announced in a recent email. The UC said it would send a statement to University President Lawrence S. Bacow, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh, and all 50 undergraduate concentration department chairs.
The statement criticizes Harvard’s decision to cancel shopping week — the tradition whereby students can browse courses in person before registering — for the fourth semester in a row and replace it with a virtual course preview period that will extend from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 and conflict with Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Harvard Registrar Mike Burke announced in an Oct. 13 email to undergraduates that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will hold an early registration schedule for the spring semester in lieu of shopping week. In the email, Burke cited the coronavirus and Harvard's efforts to protect the health of affiliates, especially as students and faculty travel back to campus after winter break.
“Placing Course Preview Period over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend is part of Harvard’s broader pattern of failing to live up to its stated commitment to racial justice,” the statement reads.
The statement also addresses Harvard's failure to meet student demands despite an overwhelming majority of undergraduates voting in favor of restoring shopping week.
“Harvard’s actions suggest that they would rather ignore the overwhelming 96.5 percent of students who voted for safely restoring Shopping Week in a September referendum, than consult students on course registration in an open, public, and meaningful process,” the statement reads.
Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an email that the College will not have any events on Martin Luther King Day and maintained that undergraduates did provide input on the course preview period.
“With respect to concerns related to the spring semester’s registration process, the College went through the [Standing Committee on Undergraduate Educational Policy], which represents student voices and is not a ‘hidden committee,’” Dane wrote.
The statement questions Harvard’s decision to cancel shopping week in order to maintain Covid-19 guidelines, as Harvard has “yet to identify a case of Covid-19 transmission in a classroom.” It goes on to propose alternative solutions to contact tracing to keep Harvard affiliates safe during an in-person shopping period.
In addition, the statement calls on Harvard to cancel the course preview period to instead hold public forums for students to express their opinions and provide a timeline for restoring shopping week.
The legislation was sponsored by 13 UC representatives and passed by a vote of 44-0-0.
The second act — one of the first put up by the new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee — establishes a fund for student advocacy efforts across campus.
“Supporting students in their ability to protest, demonstrate, and advocate for causes they believe falls under the purview of the Undergraduate Council,” the legislation reads.
The act sets aside a total of $3,000 to be given to individual students or student groups in grants of up to $300. These grants will aid advocacy efforts by subsidizing the cost of physical items, travel, food, and project initiation, the act reads.
In the case that student requests exceed what the UC can provide, their funding will be given selectively based on the “compelling interests” of financial need, the necessity of items, and student involvement.
The legislation does not specify what standards will dictate the decision-making process. Applications must be approved by the DEI Committee, as well as the majority of the entire UC.
The sponsors of the bill were UC President Noah A. Harris ’22, Vice President Jenny Y. Gan ’22, Treasurer Kimani E. Panthier ’24, Adams House Representative Tarina K. Ahuja ’24, and Maple Yard Representative Laila A. Nasher ’25.
CORRECTION: November 2, 2021
A previous version of this article stated that advocacy fund grants would be capped at $300. In fact, an amendment was passed to lift that cap. Additionally, the applications must be approved by a majority of the entire UC, in addition to the DEI Committee.
—Staff writer Mayesha R. Soshi can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Lucas J. Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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