Representatives of the office of the dean of students reaffirmed the independence of the Harvard Undergraduate Association during an interview Monday amid controversies surrounding the early months of student government.
The results of the HUA’s first-ever referendum were overturned last week because the organization had yet to appoint an election commission. The HUA leadership had initially stated that the DSO would fulfill the role of the electoral commission until his formal appointment.
Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason Meier, who is HUA’s chief adviser, said the DSO provides advice to the newly formed body but does not make decisions on its behalf.
“If staff members make decisions about elections, they stop being student-run, 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 wouldn’t be up to us to interpret that – that’s the role of an election commission.”
The decision to overturn the referendum results drew criticism from students who saw it as yet another delay in creating a HUA diversity, equity and inclusion team. The HUA came under fire last week when Harvard Primus – a campus group for low-income first-generation college students – publicly alleged that the HUA had rejected its proposal for a diversity, equity and inclusion team. .
HUA co-chairs Lylena D. Estabine ’24 and Travis Allen Johnson ’24 refuted Primus’ allegations, saying they were reluctant to hold a referendum in the fall to create a new team because a new DEI officer would not would be eligible only for one semester.
In the interview, Meier said HUA currently manages diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through its wellness team.
“The DEI is enshrined in the HUA constitution, particularly through the work of the wellness team. So this is something that the entire student body voted on in the spring,” Meier said. “Where the HUA tries to be thoughtful is at the intersection of how we have a constitutional referendum and an election and stick to the timeline that the constitution has established.”
Meier said her role is to ensure student government continues to “honor” the HUA constitution and assist with financial management.
“We’ve been working fairly steadily to make sure that we’re not only honoring the HUA constitution, but also the audit,” he said. “HUA has begun to work more closely with the department administrator and student engagement to ensure that these financial transactions are correct.”
HUA’s predecessor, the Undergraduate Council, was audited by Harvard’s Risk Management and Audit Services earlier this year due to allegations of financial mismanagement. The audit “found no evidence of financial irregularities”, according to the initial report published in March.
DSO representatives also discussed the following topic:
Harvard College Faith and Action
The students slammed Harvard College Faith and Action, a Christian campus group, for alleged discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.
Lowell House students publicly condemned HCFA on the house’s unmoderated student mailing list earlier this month. Estabine, the co-president of HUA, drew censorship from students after her public defense of HCFA on the mailing list.
Asked about the controversy, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro said she would “absolutely encourage” students to speak out against any bias or discrimination they face.
“The [Harvard] The Foundation is one of those spaces across the College that has a link to the bias reporting form on its website – I actually sort out the bias response line,” Mauro said. “I have formal liaison processes with colleagues in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences or other places.”
“We communicate early and often when there is an allegation of bias or discrimination involving a Harvard College student,” she added.
— Editor-in-chief Audrey M. Apollon can be reached at [email protected]
– Writer Dekyi T. Tsotsong can be contacted at [email protected]