Record: Why are you guys running?
Anika Khan: Tyra and I are looking to redefine student government and give students the chance to redefine student government for themselves. Tyra and I know what it’s like to be a part of the existing government, and we know how to change it to help create real community here at HLS.
Tyra Walker: After thinking about how much impact we’d be able to make at this institution in the areas we care about, we really thought our experience and our skills would make us a great team for this role.
Record: What are some of the changes you want to make?
AK: One of the things is the relationship, or lack thereof, between students and Student Government. There’s this disconnect between people and Student Government. Students don’t know who their reps are, they don’t know where they meet, and they don’t know what Student Government has done. That’s something we’d want to change.
Part of that is cultural. If you have meetings in the Lounge, that’d [make] Student Government more visible and accessible. Part of it is getting away from the parliamentary procedure that can stifle the conversation that get to the interests and needs of the student body.
In terms of additional change, student organizations provide community to students here, but we feel and we know they feel that they’re often siloed, and when you want to advocate for students, if you have all the orgs together, then it’s a lot harder [for the administration] to say no.
TW: There’s a lot of power in unity.
Record: You mention that student groups are sometimes siloed. Is that because of self-segregation?
TW: We have a vast student body, and we have so many different interests. The result of that is we have a vast number of student organizations, and that’s a good thing. People find a lot of meaning in their student organizations. But we’re not harnessing the power of the student body, and there is an opportunity right now to connect everybody.
AK: For instance, in [student orgs’ leadership] transitions, there’s a lot of informal conversations, and in navigating new leadership roles, it’s very easy to rely on traditional partners, and [as Student Government, we can allow them to meet groups with very similar needs and interests and allow them to branch out beyond their traditional partnerships or expand those [existing] partnerships.
Record: What are some of those items where there’s overlap in interests among the student orgs?
AK: Well, for example, there’s interest among several organizations on how to get together and do workshops on campus on how to learn things outside of a traditional classroom, such as how to get involved, or improve your public speaking skills, or get more context for classroom courses. For example, this past month there have been five events on the judiciary [by separate groups]. It comes down to intersectionality, and that happens with a conversation among all the groups at the beginning of the year.
Record: One of your campaign planks is to support public interest initiatives. What are some of the initiatives you had in mind?
AK: Along with Aaron Marks, I helped co-found the Public Interest Pledge, and what we’re asking is for students to donate a day’s pay to support local organizations, national organizations, and the Harvard Public Service Venture Fund, [which provides fellowships to HLS graduates who enter public service.] Currently, the Public Service Venture Fund doesn’t have enough money to fund all the graduates who are eligible. That said, given the current national situation, though, we certainly understand students who want to donate to direct service organizations.
Record: What do you make of the current national situation? And where does Student Government fit in, if at all?
TW: We were both very moved by the 2016 election. We’re at a turning point in American politics where a lot of people have to decide what kind of future they want to see. We’ve allowed ourselves to be a divided nation for a long time. We can’t just pretend that not addressing the big issues will allow us to move forward. We’re at a point where we need to come together around hard truths and be honest about the situation on the ground and not be immersed in double-speak.
Record: What are some of the hard truths you had in mind?
TW: We’re allowed to think differently about America’s past. We’re allowed to think differently about the minimum amount of respect we’re allowed to give others because of our identities.
AK: Also, something that applies to the student body here is that you’ll pick your torts reading over calling someone to talk about the struggles that you’re facing your 1L semester,* or that, for me, I’d rather not make an appointment with a counselor rather than have people know that I’m getting help.
Record: Are those hard truths? Or just unpleasant?
AK: They’re things that are hard to accept that you do.
TW: I empathize with what you’re saying about hard truths because someone else in this interview might have a different idea of what those hard truths are, and right now we’re allowing ourselves to see whatever hard truths we want to see.
Record: I’d like to go back to the Public Interest Pledge. In a recent Record piece on the Pledge, the author noted that it can be relatively more difficult to enter a public interest career without a clear vision. What can Student Government do to get students to be more prepared for public interest jobs?
AK: One of the things is that public interest is seen as an alternative [to firm jobs]. Firm jobs are a straight line and public interest is a veer. And we have to change that culture. For example, we can get 1Ls more exposure to the 2L and 3L students who have chosen public interest so that those 1Ls can ask questions such as “what made you take this path?” and “did you face pressure to do something else and if so, how did you overcome that?” That can help people look inside themselves and ask, “what is it that I hope to accomplish from this legal education?” The more stories [from public interest lawyers] students hear, the more that will become a part of the culture.
TW: To have achieved so much in your life, you deserve the option to even try out a public interest career and decide that maybe it’s not for you. I think that by weighing the path so heavily against a student who wants to investigate their interest in public interest, we’re doing a great disservice to amount of available lawyers who would be able to go into that field. We can do a lot more to offer Harvard-trained people who are ready to go into this career.
Record: Anything else?
AK: A lot of people are disenchanted, but we have to start somewhere. Tyra and I have learned from each and every person that we’ve talked to, and that’s why we think there’s a real opportunity to create a community.
TW: We hope people will make us their first call for next year’s student government.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly transcribed this quote by Anika Khan. The Record apologizes for the error.
Disclosure: Tyra Walker is a regular contributor to The Record.
2017 Student Government Candidate interviews