Indian Americans sweep Harvard Undergraduate elections

James A. Mathew

NEW YORK – Harvard University’s Undergraduate Council election results are beginning to look a lot like the National Scripps Spelling Bee results, especially this year: a stunning near sweep by Indian American candidates.

The Harvard elections made national headlines this year as the ticket of James A. Mathew, an Indian American, who ran for President, and Ifeoma “Ify” E. White-Thorpe, an African American, who ran for Vice President, stomped home after a rap music video on diversity and inclusion they produced with friends from the university, went viral on social media, with Twitter itself registering over five million views.

Mathew and White-Thorpe ran on a campaign to foster inclusion and improve student wellness and safety under the slogan “Harvard Can’t Wait”, reported the Harvard Crimson.

The duo won the election despite the fact that they did not receive the most first-choice votes under the Borda voting system the Council adopted last year. Voters ranked all five candidates, and each ticket received a quantity of points corresponding to its ranking on the ballot — first-choice tickets received one point, second-choice tickets received 0.5 points, third-choice received 0.33, fourth-choice received 0.25, and fifth-choice received 0.2.

Mathew is a rising junior, from Hinsdale, IL. He concentrates in Sociology with a secondary in Global Health & Health Policy, according to his bio on the Harvard website. Primarily interested in law, public health and social entrepreneurship, he is an intern at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, president of 21 Colorful Crimson (a music group, members of which made up the ‘Ify and James’ promotional music video), and Chief of Inclusion & Belonging on the Undergraduate Council Executive Cabinet. Last summer, he interned at the National Minority Quality Forum in Washington D.C., a nonprofit organization committed to improving the health outcomes of minority populations. This summer, he worked at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Buildings in Harvard Yard are reflected in frozen puddle at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The sensational aspect of the Harvard elections this year was that the other top two tickets had Indian American candidates too, in the fray for President.

Aditya A. Dhar and Andrew W. Liang — a Crimson business associate — received the most first-choice votes, with 1,063 students ranking the ticket as their top choice. Mathew and White-Thorpe followed with 1,025 first-choice votes, and Sanika S. Mahajan and Rushi A. Patel came in third with 965 first-choice votes, reported the Crimson.

Under the Borda voting system, Mathew and White-Thorpe won with 1,938.0 points. Dhar and Liang came in second with 1,865.8 points, followed by Mahajan and Patel with 1,846.3, Prashanth “PK” Kumar and Michael O. Raji with 1,436.3, and M. Thorwald “Thor” Larson and Case McKinley with 1,298.0.

Student turnout for the Undergraduate elections has increased significantly over the past few years. A total of 3,672 students voted in this year’s election, a 31 percent increase from the 2,797 students who voted last year, the Crimson report noted.

Mathew and White-Thorpe’s platform lays out three main goals: advocate for inclusion and belonging on campus; innovate solutions to problems; and foster a “community-oriented” student experience, according to their campaign website. The duo also proposed creating a “Unity Caucus,” a group of Council members and other students that collaborates on legislation and other projects.

Mathew will take over the reins of the President of the Harvard Undergraduate Council from yet another Indian American, who triumphed in 2018, Sruthi Palaniappan.

Even last year, another Indian American had finished second, though running for Vice President, Arnav Agrawal.

Sruthi Palaniappan, current President of the Harvard Undergraduate Council. Photo: Harvard

Palaniappan, originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is studying Government with a secondary in Educational Studies. She has also been involved with the Harvard College Democrats and South Asian Association through which she choreographs Bollywood-oriented dances for Ghungroo, the largest student-run production on campus.

No doubt, the majority of Indian-origin students in undergraduate courses in campuses across the US are native born, but it’s heartening to note that despite the Trump administration’s restrictions on the immigration front, the flow of students from India who want to get a quality education here, is increasing year by year.

The 2019 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released last week, said that India sent more than 200,000 students to the US in 2018-19 academic year, registering a 2.9 percent growth over the previous year. This comes at the time when overall, the number of international students emigrating to the US is slackening with tougher H-1B visa restrictions dampening hopes for employment after graduation.

The number of foreign undergraduate students in US colleges and universities fell by about 2 percent and the number of international graduate students declined by 1.3 percent, while the number of international non-degree students declined by 5 percent, according to the new Open Doors report.

Overall, India sent 202,014 students to the US in the 2018-2019 academic year, staying as the second highest source of international students, after China, which sent a whopping 369,548 students across the board. South Korea (52,250), Saudi Arabia (37,080, and Canada (26,122, followed in the list, to make up the top five foreign countries sending students to the US.

The report said that although there is no separate breakup of areas of study for students from India, there were a total of 40,239 undergraduate students from South and Central Asia – 105,498 graduate students, 3,081 non-degree students and 89,803 Optional Practical Curriculum (OPT) students.

California led the top 20 US states hosting international students, followed by New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois. New York City is the top metropolitan area for international students, followed by Los Angeles, Boston, and Chicago.

The Open Doors Report said 51.6 percent of international students pursued STEM fields in 2018/19 and the number of international students in math and computer science programs grew by 9.4 percent, surpassing business and management to become the second-largest field of study for international students. Engineering remained the largest academic field for international students, with 21.1 percent of all international students.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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