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Representatives from the Dean of Students Office reaffirmed the independence of the Harvard Undergraduate Association in a Monday interview amid controversies surrounding the student government’s early months.
The results of the HUA’s first-ever referendum were voided last week because the organization had not yet appointed an election commission. HUA leadership had initially said the DSO would fulfill the role of the election commission until its formal appointment.
Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason Meier, who serves as the primary advisor to the HUA, said the DSO provides guidance to the newly-formed body but does not make decisions on its behalf.
“If staff people are making decisions about elections, it ceases to be student-led, student-run, for students, by students,” he said.
“We're not here to make decisions,” Meier added. “If someone had challenged the election results, it would not be our place to interpret that — that's the role of an election commission.”
The move to void the referendum results drew criticism from students who saw it as another delay to the creation of an HUA diversity, equity, and inclusion team. The HUA came under fire last week when Harvard Primus — a campus group for first-generation, low-income students — publicly alleged the HUA had rejected its proposal for a diversity, equity, and inclusion team.
HUA Co-Presidents Lylena D. Estabine ’24 and Travis Allen Johnson ’24 refuted Primus’s allegations, saying they hesitated to hold a referendum in the fall to create a new team because an incoming DEI officer would only be eligible to serve for one semester.
In the interview, Meier said the HUA currently handles diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through its well-being team.
“DEI is enshrined in the constitution of the HUA, in particular, through the work of the well-being team. So that was something that the entire student body voted upon in the spring,” Meier said. “Where the HUA is trying to be thoughtful is that intersection of how do we have a constitutional referendum and an election and honor the timeline that the constitution has laid forth.”
Meier said his role is to ensure the student government continues to “honor” the HUA constitution and assist in financial management.
“We have been working pretty steadily to make sure that we're not just honoring the HUA’s constitution, but also the audit,” he said. “The HUA has begun to work more closely with the departmental administrator and Student Engagement to make sure that these financial transactions are correct.”
The HUA’s predecessor, the Undergraduate Council, was audited by the Harvard Risk Management and Audit Services earlier this year due to allegations of financial mismanagement. The audit did not “find evidence of any financial irregularities,” according to the initial report released in March.
Representatives from the DSO also discussed the following topic:
Harvard College Faith and Action
Students have criticized Harvard College Faith and Action, a Christian campus group, for alleged discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
Students in Lowell House publicly condemned HCFA over the house’s unmoderated student email list earlier this month. Estabine, the HUA co-president, drew censure from students after her public defense of HCFA over the email list.
When asked about the controversy, Associate Dean for Inclusion & Belonging Alta Mauro said that she “would absolutely encourage” students to speak out about any bias or discrimination they face.
“The [Harvard] Foundation is one of those spaces across the College that has a link to the bias reporting form on its website — I actually triage the bias response line,” Mauro said. “I do have formal processes of liaising with colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences or in other places."
“We are communicating early and often when there is an allegation of bias or discrimination involving a Harvard College student,” she added.
— Staff writer Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at email@example.com.
— Staff writer Dekyi T. Tsotsong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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