Harris follows two other Black students who have headed Harvard’s Undergraduate Council, but Harris is the first Black man to be elected by the student body.
“I definitely don’t take that lightly,” Harris, a junior majoring in government, said of the confidence placed in him. “Especially with everything that went on this summer with the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, all the protests that went on in this moment of racial reckoning in this country. This is a major statement by the Harvard student body to entrust a Black man with such an unprecedented moment in its history.”
Cary Gabay (1994) was the first Black man to serve in the role; he was chosen in 1993 by members of the council, prior to voting changing to include the entire student body in 1995. Gabay died in 2015 after being caught in the crossfire of a shooting in New York City. Fentrice Driskell (2001) became the first Black woman to be elected, in 1999. She now serves in the Florida House of Representatives, where she recently was elected to a second term.
Brandon Terry, an assistant professor of African and African American studies and social studies at Harvard, said Harris is “somebody who has made sure that the relatively privileged student body that we have at Harvard is exposed to and attuned to broader issues of fairness in the larger society.” Terry also believes Harris’ accomplishment makes an important statement about Harvard.
Harris co-chairs the Undergraduate Council’s Black Caucus and serves as treasurer. Jenny Gan, a junior from Cleveland who is studying neuroscience, is the new vice president. The two ran on a platform of diversity and inclusion, improving student life and focusing on students’ mental and physical health. They were elected Nov. 12 and will be sworn in Dec. 6 for their 2021 term.