With their recent election as Undergraduate Council President and Vice President, Tara Raghuveer '14 and Jen Zhu '14 have quickly become two of the most visible student leaders on campus--and they have big plans in store for their new roles. Tara (left) and Jen (right) met during their pre-frosh weekend before coming to Harvard; Jen recalls “sitting across from Tara our first time we tried JP Licks and trying to convince her to share my enormous triple scoop ice cream with me!” Having been friends for so long and having worked together on the UC for the past two years, when it came to their campaign, there was no doubt that Tara and Jen would make a great team. Along with an "incredible, talented" staff of over 150 students, they garnered the support of several student groups and presented a platform based around their shared mission to “demand relevance” from the UC. Discussing their partnership, Tara and Jen describe it as “balanced”—noting Jen’s institutional memory from three years of UC experience, two as the Vice Chair of the Student Life Committee, and Tara’s two years on the UC, both as Vice Chair of the Student Relations Committee, coupled with critical outside perspective—and “strong,” in terms of their friendship, complementary leadership styles, personal interests, and vision for the UC and the Harvard community. They explain that when running together was first brought up for discussion, “it was never about positions, but about priorities—about setting down our ideas and creating a vision for Harvard that excited us and truly made us believe we were the best candidates to bring about change.” Read on to learn more about the genuine passion, strong work ethic, and dedication to action that have earned Tara and Jen the respect (and votes!) of their Harvard peers, and see how they plan to translate their ideas into a demand for relevance and change within the UC.
1. Tell us a little about yourselves -- where are you from, what do you study, and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Tara Raghuveer: I am a junior, I live in Currier, and I am a Social Studies concentrator with a focus in Contemporary American Policy and Urban Social Problems. I'm interested in cities, communities, and economic development. I am from Kansas City, Kansas, but I was born in Australia and have lived in India, England, New York, St. Louis, and Iowa City. I love music. Not in the "I am interested in music" sort of way. It just really makes me feel good, and I like all sorts. My claim to fame: a Spotify playlist titled "morning", featuring songs for morning listening, with 18 subscribers! I also love watching the news. And reading. And I would say that I love cooking, but I'm pretty bad at it, so I'll say I enjoy eating. I like coffee a lot but I don't know anything about it. I doodle. My favorite after-lunch snack: D-hall coffee to-go and a sugar cookie.
Jen Zhu: I was born in Japan, grew up in Texas, and now live in North Carolina. I'm a junior in Quincy House and am a joint concentrator in Government and Sociology with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. I love taking photos with my DSLR, going to see movies and arts performances, and trying new life experiences, ranging from running a mud obstacle Warrior Dash course to backpacking around a different country!
2. What are some of the extracurricular activities you are involved with on campus?
Tara: I am a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals tech crew. This extracurricular has taught me more about table saws, stage makeup, and mopeds than I ever thought I would learn in college. I really don't like musicals, but I really like the Pudding. I give a weekly tour as a member of the Crimson Key Society. This is my favorite hour of each week. It's a great reminder of how privileged I am (how privileged we all are!) to go to Harvard. It's also really refreshing to speak to non-Harvard folks for at least an hour a week. Last semester I was a member of the Women's Initiative in Leadership through the Institute of Politics, and sometimes I do interviews for the Crimson. And the UC!
Jen: I work as a Resource Advocate at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and serve as Chair of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and Co-Chair of World Health Organization for Harvard Model Congress. I also have worked with the Nicholas Christakis lab and the international development startup Essmart.
3. What are your plans for J-Term?
Tara: I plan to hang out with my parents and friends in Kansas City, read at least three books, exercise, and catch up on sleep. I should start thinking about my summer, too!
Jen: I'm going to India to work with Essmart and then Dubai for the Harvard Model Congress conference -- fingers crossed for my Visa application to get approved!
4. What would be your dream job after graduation?
Tara: I want to start a company at some point. I've been told to take the biggest risks when the stakes are lowest. I've also been told that the stakes don't really get lower than the first few years out of college. So that might be the dream -- being the CEO of my own company after graduation. I don't know what company that is yet, but I have a year and a half to figure that out.
Jen: It would be my dream to work with the White House's Domestic Policy Council, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or World Health Organization -- I want to shape health care policy so that our government can better help vulnerable, underserved, and disadvantaged populations here in the U.S. and abroad.
5. So, congratulations on your election as UC President and Vice President! Looking back on your campaign, what would you say is the most valuable thing you have each learned through this experience?
Tara: Building our campaign team was an incredible experience. Jen and I started with our ideas, talked through our goals, and then it was time to recruit people to help us along the way. Learning how to communicate our vision and convince people to join our team was one of the toughest things I've done in college. Once the core team was assembled, everything else fell into place. It was so much fun to bring a bunch of my friends, Jen's friends, and people-who-would-become-our-friends together for this election. I learned a lot about management, delegation, communication, and -- most significantly -- leadership.
Jen: I've learned so many things, but the lesson that stands out to me the most is: you need to involve people in the process if you really want to create change. People, especially students on Harvard's campus, want to be a part of something bigger, and most students want to help make a positive difference during their time here. They just need to be mobilized. Students were so excited and surprised when Tara and I reached out to them and asked them for their feedback on our ideas and their own thoughts on what weneed to be doing to improve Harvard. Tara and I acknowledge that we have perspectives that are limited by our own unique experiences. By incorporating other students from all kinds of backgrounds into the process of coming up with our platform and our vision for change, we were able to come up with very concrete, feasible plans for holistic change on campus.
6. What does it mean to you to be the first all-female ticket to be elected to head-up the UC in four years?
Jen: I can't even express how much it means to me. Freshman year, more than 100 people ran for the UC. I was the only female freshman representative elected. Increased female leadership and representation has been something that I have been fighting fo my entire time at Harvard. I co-sponsored the legislation that started the UC's gender parity initiatives my freshman year, and this year, I helped to lead campaign workshops to equip women with the skills and confidence to win their bids for leadership. I hope that women on campus (and maybe even beyond Harvard) will look at Tara and me and feel inspired and believe that they too should and can run for office and serve as leaders.
Tara: I am so excited about being the first all-female ticket to lead the UC in four years! I feel very strongly, though, that leadership should not be defined by leaders' genders, but instead by skills and performance. When my term ends, I hope to be known as a really good UC president who happened to be female, instead of just as a female UC president. I think that the more our generation can divorce ourselves from stereotypes about leadership and gender, the stronger our leaders will be. That said, I think every leader brings valuable perspective based on personal experience. Jen and I, given our academic and professional interests, have thought about gender disparities at Harvard and beyond. Gender parity is a work in progress on campus, and we are committed to sustaining efforts to that end. People of every gender should be well-represented in Harvard's leadership, faculty, organization memberships, and student body.
7. What do you anticipate being your biggest challenge in "demanding relevance" from the UC going forward?
Tara + Jen: The biggest challenge will be keeping students engaged in what the UC is doing. A lot of this comes down to communication -- the UC needs to do a better job of communicating its mission, priorities, initiatives, and achievements. The UC also needs to do a better job of listening to the student body -- we need to standardize a method for surveying students about what they want out of their student government. What are students' top priorities? We need to be working on those issues primarily.
8. In your opinion, what is the single greatest thing the UC has to offer to Harvard students, and what is its greatest weakness at the moment?
Tara + Jen: Danny and Pratyusha's WeTheCrimson initiative is our favorite thing the UC is doing currently! WeTheCrimson is an online platform for students to propose ideas and collect virtual signatures from fellow students on a petition. We think this could be a great way to foster more activism on campus, to advertise projecs and gain support, and to organize students to take action on issues of interest. The UC's greatest weakness is its irrelevance on campus. If the UC is not a relevant body in the eyes of students, it will not be taken seriously by administrators. We ran on this -- we crafted a platform that we felt "demanded relevance" of the UC by asking students big questions and thinking about appropriate solutions. For a variety of reasons (referendum questions, high number of candidates, voter turnout initiatives), the UC presidential election saw a drastic increase in turnout this fall. To us, that means that the UC is more relevant to the student body this year than it was last year. We can't let that end with the election, though. We now have the responsibility of seeing our platform through -- our "demand" doesn't end now that we've been elected.
9. What are you most looking forward to about your new position?
Tara: The best part of the campaign (besides working with our incredible team) was meeting with student groups and their leaders. I look forward to working closely with those people, and many other student leaders, in the coming year!
Jen: I really feel empowered to make a bigger difference now that we have greater access to top-level administrators. I'm honored to serve in this position in which I connect to the administration and the student body. People who know me have always reached out to me with their questions about the UC and for help navigating Harvard's resources and administration. Now, because I'm in a more visible position, even more people -- including people I haven't even met in person yet -- have been reaching out to me for that help, whether it's getting Tara's and my help pushing through a major initiative changing university policy or getting funding for a club sport. I want to transform Harvard into the institution and experience that students want, and Tara and I will be working so hard to deliver on our promises. So if you ever have something you want us to help you work on, or if you feel that we could be doing a better job, please let us know!