Nino Monea is the outgoing Student Government President. The Record asked him what was on his mind.
Record: What are some of the things that student government has been able to do this year that you’re proud of?
Monea: As far as membership goes, a majority of the executive team and elected members are women, and a majority are people of color for the first time as far back as we have records on this point, and I think it’s great that we have a team that really reflects the school that we’re supposed to represent. On substantive accomplishments, we’ve been able to implement a new printing system, which historically was students’ number one complaint in polls.
We’ve been able to make progress on policies to help students be more politically engaged, such as recording classes on Election Day, and we’ve begun discussions about canceling courses on Election Day so students can more easily go out and vote or volunteer. And we’re for the first time trying to expand offerings for students trying to go into public [office], such as a reading group on how to run for office as a lawyer. And going forward we want to see if there’s resources this school can offer to help people who don’t come from politically connected families run for office.
And we can just go down the list of things we’ve gotten done such as online syllabi for classes, more wheelchair accessibility for printers, and peer housing for Admitted Students Weekend. So I’m really proud of all the stuff we’ve gotten done so far.
Record: What are some things that you wish you had been able to do?
Monea: Some issues have proven very intractable. One that was big for me when I was running was taking on issues of gender inequality. We still see women graduate on average with 40% [fewer Latin honors]. And that’s something that’s been pretty consistent over the last several years. And despite the fact that the school’s said they know about the problem and are committed to fixing it, we haven’t seen changes in [the statistics] nor have we been made privy to anything the school has done, is doing, or will do to fix it. I think it’s unfortunate because the Business School had this exact same problem, but they implemented a whole host of reforms to take it on. And they eliminated the gender gap in grades only a few years after they implemented them.
Record: How might we change things here?
Monea: Well, for example, reading groups are not eligible for a DS, and women disproportionately take classes where a DS is not an option. So the way we set up those classes might disproportionally impact women. I don’t know if there’s any one change that will do it, but I think the school should explore options, try them out, and see what works.
Record: I want to go back to something you said earlier, which was that Student Government was representative of the school this year. What does that phrase, “representative of the school,” mean to you?
Monea: I think there’s a lot of different ways to be representative. It can be age, veteran status, gender, race, LGBTQ status. It’s about meeting people who fit into some of those categories and also people who are committed to helping all those groups. We have [members on Student Government] who are on the board of groups such as BLSA, WLA, and Supero, and it makes it that much easier to work with those groups.
Record: Do you feel like it would be harder to work with those groups if there wasn’t that overlap with Student Government?
Monea: So much of what I do in my job on Student Government is just leveraging connections. It’s not only me reaching out asking for help on certain policies or ideas, but it’s also people feeling comfortable coming to you with ideas. I do polls, and I hope everyone responds, but it always seems like people are more likely to respond if they know me. It’s helpful for solving problems, and it’s helpful for identifying problems to have all these people on the team.
Record: Do you feel like the helpfulness of having affinity group members on Student Government implicitly means that people who are in those groups aren’t stepping outside of their group?
Monea: I don’t think it’s that people aren’t stepping outside of their group. Rather, it’s that if you’re trying to [form a government], [that government] should look like the people you’re trying to represent. That has value in and of itself. It gives the government more legitimacy, and it makes it easier to reach out to a wide variety of groups.
Record: What do you feel like you’ve learned from Student Government about the limits of what government can do?
Monea: A lot of people ask about what power Student Government has when they’re asking about joining, and the answer is that we both have a lot and none at all. We don’t have power in the same way Congress can pass a law, but most of the policies we work on aren’t within our power to pass. That means we have to understand the problem, find people who are affected by the problem, and try to organize people to direct them to those who do directly oversee the problem.
Record: It seems like the HLS Student Government has rather less power than a lot of undergrad student governments, including the one at Harvard College. What do you make of that?
Monea: I think some people, especially those who are older, see it as they’ve done their student orgs in college and want to move on to other things. Though of course that’s not universal, and we have 30-year-olds on Student Government now.
Also, several years ago, Student Government kind of fell apart, and got reduced to not doing much beyond planning a few events such as a Halloween party, but it was not envisioned at that time to try to change policy on campus or take stands on controversial issues. And I hope whomever succeeds me will keep that on.
Record: More broadly, what do you make of the national political situation?
Monea: I think the national political situation is really troubling. Everything from gutting healthcare reform, gutting Legal Services Corporation, and every day a news story comes out that’s just utterly terrible. If there’s one thing that gives me hope, it’s that you see people become engaged for the first time. I’ve never seen so many people get excited about running for [political] office. It’s heartening to see so many people get involved for the first time.
Record: Any hopes for the future?
Monea: My hope is that anytime the school makes an important decision, students will be an integral part of the process. For example, students could be much more involved in the dean search process, and I think the school could take students much more seriously.
Record: There’s obviously a great deal of self-selection in which students serve on such committees. Do you feel that creates issues around which voices are, and more importantly, are not represented?
Monea: As long as students are the ones making the students are making the decisions, I think you just have to trust in the ability of students to select the people they think are going to be representative.
Record: Anything else?
Monea: If people have concerns, please don’t hesitate to write to me or the official email, even if it’s something tiny. I’m always happy to talk.