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The Citizen

KSSG Elections 2018: Know your Candidates

It is that time of the year again! Election time. Time to celebrate our ‘School of Government’ and democracy.

The KSSG elections are around the corner. This is one of the crucial decisions Kennedy School students must make at the beginning of every academic year. It dictates many policies, activities, and events that shape our life at school this year and beyond. The KSSG plays a crucial role in acting as the primary link between students, faculty, and staff, as well as the wider Harvard community.

The KSSG comprises of an eleven-membered executive board and two representatives from each degree program, headed by the student President. They play a crucial role in organizing social events for students as well as representing student interests in various school-related policy issues. It is essentially a bottom-up approach to make the student interests, voices, and grievances are reflected in school administration.

The elections will be held from Monday (September 18) 5:00 PM to Tuesday (September 19) 5:00 PM. The Presidential debate is on 6:30 PM, September 14 at the Forum.

Ahead of the Presidential debate today, we asked our Presidential candidates to share their vision and plan for the Kennedy School. We will be running pieces throughout the year to check with the eventual President to keep you updated on their plans.

Who are they?

This year we have six candidates running for the Presidential office. They are Abdulla Aljefri, Jie Chen, Philip Johnston, Isaias Medina, Lisbeth Sanchez Acre, and Gagan Vaseer. We asked them to introduce themselves and tell us why they are running for the post (some of them have chosen to speak in plural referring to their running mate for the post of Executive Vice President).

Abdulla Aljefri

My name is Abdulla Aljefri, from the United Arab Emirates. I am currently a Mid-Career MPA. I believe in my pledges! I have developed my campaign around 3 commitments: ensure equal representation in the form of a male-female co-presidency, bring government to my fellow colleagues, and enhance our school experience.

Since coming to HKS in June, I have volunteered, served and given my best to the school and my cohort. I intend to pursue this with the wider school cohorts. I am extremely humbled to run for office.

Jie Chen

I am a mid-career MPA student. My international background can bring more cultural diversity and inclusion. As a professional pianist, I know what it takes to deliver, and I never disappoint my audience. I will bring that hard work as well as artistry to the student body.

Philip Johnston

We are Phil Johnston and Bi Huang. This is our second year at HKS and our second- and third-time doing grad school in the US and we know what works and what doesn’t. We’ve translated our past experiences into practical ideas to ensure that we can improve the HKS experience for everyone!

Gagan Vaseer

I am Gagan Vaseer, an MPP2 as well as the Interim-President during the summer. My running mate Chu Wang is an MPP1 student. We believe in an HKS for All. An HKS that is socially inclusive, economically inclusive, and focused on promoting health and wellness. As the only ticket with KSSG experience, as well as the longest HKS experience, we see engaging with KSSG as an opportunity to serve as advocates for the student body and drive forward initiatives that make the HKS community one that advances everyone forward. We aim to improve how diverse communities (LGBTQ, women, minorities, military members, students of low income, and other groups) engage with and are embraced HKS. Our aim is to ensure all students have access to all opportunities within HKS.

<Isaias and Lisbeth did not respond to our questions. We know that Isaias is mid-career MPA student and Lisbeth is a first-year MPP student>

What are their plans for the Kennedy School?

Abdulla Aljefri

I have developed my campaign around the 3 pledges stated above. I did engage very actively with my fellow students and friends in order to identify the top 3 priorities. I have listened and decided to design my campaign on:

Equal gender representation in Student Government – Better representation starts with fair and equitable representation. I will ensure a reform to the Student Government bylaws so that we are equitably represented, and the Student Government is run on a Co-presidency platform with gender parity and regional representation.

Bring student government to you – I will guarantee that your Student Government works for you, that it is accountable as well as easily accessible. We will always be available to hear your needs and ideas. We will have periodic newsletters/progress reports detailing the issues we are tackling and the progress we are making on them. Our work will be documented allowing for a smooth handover next year. We will solicit regular feedback from our fellow students

Enhance your school experience

  • Provide better services to enhance the well-being of students
  • Improve the printing service
  • Child-focused assistance/care for student parents (childcare room)
  • Free Yoga and Mindfulness classes
  • Cross Cambridge Networking, not only with other Harvard schools but also with other universities like MIT and Tufts
  • Resting room
  • Better cafeteria services and prices

Jie Chen

  • More dialogues across different cohorts, as well as with other schools in and beyond Harvard
  • Promotes gender equality and diversity both in student and faculty body
  • More efficient teaching and bidding system
  • Better formats and organization in social gatherings/event

I have reached out to previous leadership and seems like same problems have been brought up every year but never really implemented through, therefore one of the main change I want to make is creating an effective communication environment that facilitates the continuity and growth from one leadership to the next.

Philip Johnston

Community & Diversity

  • Lobby for a minimum percentage of women hired as faculty set by the school.
  • The KSSG president will raise the issue of the lack of gender and ethnic diversity in the faculty, speakers and student body to the dean during the weekly meetings
  • Better-supported affinity groups and initiatives that we’ve seen work at other institutions to increase enrollment of minorities and underrepresented nationalities.
  • More cross-school activities that build a sense of school community. Some events we would like to hold include school-wide storytelling evenings, “ask me anything” lunch sessions, inter-program sports events, performing arts and standup comedy nights
  • Integrate the MC/MPA and other fellows’ experience in a more structured and thoughtful way. Beyond being great friends, many mid-careers can be an invaluable resource to other programs, as they will often go back to roles where they are hiring managers looking for people with the skills HKS provides
  • We would like to see more usable social spaces on campus. For example, we are one of the few schools on campus that doesn’t have a coffee shop or a bar


Recruiting can be a stressful journey, so we don’t want you to walk it alone. We will use our experiences and leverage the best practices we have seen in other institutions to help bring about a more supportive OCA. Students at HKS should not be put at a disadvantage for wanting to spend a couple of years in the private sector after graduation. Some initiative to help support these students include:

  • HKS should provide adequate case prep and other training to ensure our students are fully prepared to secure offers
  • As is the case at other schools, HKS should hire recruiting managers from the most sought-after positions in order to advocate for our students
  • Make the process of getting the CPT visa for international students wanting to work in the US much, much easier
  • We aim to get the school to petition to get the MPA-ID to be designated as a STEM major so that MPA-IDs will be able to get a three-year OPT visa after graduation
  • We think it is unnecessarily cumbersome for our email addresses to say We will request a change to be in line with other Harvard schools:

Admissions & Financial Aid

  • HKS is one of the few schools that does not let students who missed the first-year for financial aid, apply for it in the second year. We will lobby to see this changed
  • The admissions blog has some potentially critical information on it but it is incredibly difficult to navigate and some of the posts seem self-serving for the admissions committee rather than an attempt to provide clarity and guidance. We would like to see this addressed

Technology & Infrastructure

  • Websites like which automatically import events into your google calendar should be run by the IT department rather than students
  • HKS wastes far too much food. We will work with groups already advocating on this issue for effective operational changes to lower the amount of food waste
  • A large proportion of the lockers are unused, but many of us don’t have lockers yet. We will campaign to see a more efficient allocation


Many people come to HKS knowing that they want to be a politician. We need more courses like “Making of a Politician” without burning 900 points.


Students are left to fend for themselves in the tech-inflated housing market of Cambridge. We would like to see much more attention focused on this problem.

Gagan Vaseer

Economic Inclusion: We aim to support students in having the HKS experience they came for.

  • Increased access: For students in need, we plan to subsidize the cost of conferences, balls, and other events so finances no longer serve as barriers. We intend to provide subsidies for childcare and event tickets so that students with children can attend events with their significant other without having to worry about the financial burden
  • Worker protection: We also want to ensure that CAs/TFs/CCs/RAs are all paid a fair and competitive wage; we’ll work closely with the Graduate School Union to ensure pay student workers are compensated and treated well. Individuals who ensure that HKS academics function should be given financial security and psychological protection.
  • Financial aid reform: Financial aid continues to be a pain-point here at HKS. While we recognize that HKS is currently not able to provide free tuition to all students, we need to push both our donors and institutional advancement office to make financial aid a key pillar in their efforts

Social Inclusion: We aim to bring different communities together so that the HKS experience is meaningful for all students (and their families).

  • Cross-community engagement: With new events like a Fall Olympics, HKS-wide picnics, and KSSG-sponsored student-to-students coffee chats, we want students from all HKS programs to form deeper relationships. With our “Student Shares” program, we will host Ted Talk-like forums so that students can share their personal experiences, and we can build an HKS community
  • Diversity – While progress has been made, HKS continues to lag in attracting diverse (race, age, ethnicity, political affiliation, sexual orientation/identity, etc.) students, faculty, and staff. Currently, less than 33% of the faculty identifies as female, less than 5% identify as Black, and less than 3% identify as Hispanic – we need to do better. Building on the momentum for last year, we want to work with the administration to set explicit targets on achieving a more diverse community. Students have a deep understanding of what this school needs), and we plan to give this committee more clout as decision-makers
  • Careers – Students at HKS have diverse career interests, and we need to diversify the organizations that recruit from HKS. We intend to use such networks to promote more holistic recruiting for the student body. Moreover, as Gagan is an ambassador for the Office of Career Advancement (OCA), we will also work to reform OCA, so it prepares HKS students to be leaders

Health & Wellness – We aim to work with the Administration to increase mental health awareness and understanding throughout the school. While resources are available, they’re often not accessible – this has to be changed. Wellness comes in many forms, and we want to meet students where they are.

  • Mental health breaks: We plan to host exam study breaks by providing students with care packages, mental health support, and pet puppies
  • Academic reform: For some stress comes from the class selection process and the bidding process. HKS students pay too much tuition to not get into the classes they want, and we will work with the administration to increase the number of sections offered for the popular courses. Additionally, we will work to ensure that, when possible, classes are offered during non-evening hours so that those with commitments (parents, other jobs, etc.) are able to fully partake in the HKS experience

Last year, efforts were made to make Quorum call more family friendly by having family-oriented areas. We plan to continue and build upon this setup so school events become more inclusive to families.

Historically, the administration has decided who speaks at graduation, resulting in speakers who do not reflect the needs or wants of the student body. We’ll be working to change this system and setting up a student committee that will work with HKS administration to co-determine who is best suited for graduation. For many students, graduation is a culmination of years of tireless work – its imperative students have a say in who gets to share such a moment with them.

No democracy can truly function without a free and fair election system. We may have come from different countries and government systems but as students in a ‘school of government’ situated in one of the largest democracies in the world, this is our chance to savor a key democratic process.

As the campus newspaper, the Citizen urge every member of the Kennedy School student community to exercise your franchise. It is a right as well as a duty!

(This article is solely based on the information provided by the candidates. The Citizen team has not added any additional information but abridged certain responses for brevity. We have not added responses from Isaias Medina and Lisbeth Sanchez Acre as they did not answer our emails.)