In a virtual debate, the co-presidential candidates outline their visions for the inaugural year of HUA | News

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On the eve of the Harvard Undergraduate Association’s inaugural officer elections, six co-presidential posts laid out their visions for the new student government in a virtual debate hosted by the Harvard Political Union on Tuesday.

With a paltry turnout of just a few dozen participants, the debate marked a return to the low level of student turnout that largely defined the elections of its predecessor, the Undergraduate Council. Ahead of the debate, a trickle of students turned out for a Meet the Candidates event, held at Harvard Hall due to inclement weather.

The debate, moderated by Shang Wang ’24, solicited the ticket plans for funding disbursements, communications and special initiatives.

Waging a satirical campaign centered on the minting of a cryptocurrency “H-Coin”, Ian M. Espy ’23 and Ishan A. Bhatt ’23 challenged their opponents to commit to changing the title of “co-president ” in one of less prestige.

“We’ve watched for three years that the title race has caused people to give up on being light and kind,” Espy said. “If you win, will you commit to changing the title of president?

Most candidates said they were open to change.

During the debate, several of the posts also pledged to leverage the financial power of the HUA for cultural initiatives.

LyLena D. Estabine ’24 and Travis Allen Johnson ’24, whose ticket was endorsed by former UC President Michael Y. Cheng ’22 on Tuesday night, said they would prioritize cultural organizations during the distribution of club funding, a core function of the corps.

“[Cultural organizations] will receive the majority of club funding and we also call on other applicants to make the same promise and commitment,” Estabine said.

Esther Xiang ’23 and Yousuf A. Bakshi ’23 said that if elected, they would advocate for the creation of a multicultural center.

“It’s more important than ever that we focus on inclusion and belonging, and one of those ways is actually being able to build a multicultural hub,” Xiang said.

If elected, Xiang and Bakshi said they would use HUA funds to lease space in Harvard Square to serve as a multicultural center in the interim.

Maria F. De Los Santos ’24 and Zachary J. Lech ’24 said they would prioritize creating space for Black students at the College.

“While I’m definitely okay with the multicultural hub, personally, as a Black Latinx woman, I want to start with the black house,” De Los Santos said.

Jeremy J. Rasmussen ’24 and William R. Scheibler ’23, another satirical post, reiterated their plan to embezzle HUA funds.

“For so long we focused on the dishonesty of former politicians,” Rasmussen said. “I won’t do that. I’m going to join now; I’m going to embezzle the money.

In a race where two-thirds of the tickets feature former UC members, the composition of the HUA leadership has also been the subject of debate.

“Should individuals from the abolished UC lead the new HUA?” Wang asked towards the end of the debate.

In response, Kimani E. Panthier ’24 and Lisa R. Mathew ’24, cited their time at UC as evidence of their commitment to low-income first-generation students.

“We have several programs in place to help FGLI students get MBTA passes to take classes at MIT, to visit Boston for errands,” Panthier said.

Xiang and Bakshi, who both resigned as UC members, described their resumes as an advantage.

“Anyone who has a genuine interest in making change on campus should be able to come forward,” Bakshi said.

“It’s really important, I think, to have past experience as well,” Xiang added.

Estabine, who campaigned for the dissolution of the UC and helped draft the HUA constitution, highlighted that experience in his response.

“I was on the UC, but I also removed the UC,” Estabine said. “Yeah, I sat at UC, but I also helped with that transition process and I think Travis and I are really well positioned to see that through.”

De Los Santos expressed his opinion that former UC members should not lead the HUA. De Los Santos’ running mate Lech has served at UC before.

“I personally think not,” said De Los Santos. “If it’s the same people as before, is it really a new government?”

The virtual debate’s Zoom chat also featured comedic comments from students, including anonymous audience member “Remy the Cat.”

Voting for the co-chairs and the other seven elected positions opened early Wednesday morning and will close at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

—Editor J. Sellers Hill can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SellersHill.

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