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Linn-Mar graduate continues political activities at Harvard

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Sruthi Palaniappan, a 2016 graduate of Linn-Mar High School in Marion, was inaugurated president of the Harvard University Undergraduate Council on Sunday.
Photo submitted Sruthi Palaniappan, a 2016 graduate of Linn-Mar High School in Marion, was inaugurated president of the Harvard University Undergraduate Council on Sunday.

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Linn-Mar High School graduate who was the youngest delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention hasn’t put her political life on hold while attending college.

After serving two years on the board of College Democrats, Sruthi Palaniappan now is president of the Undergraduate Council at Harvard University, where she is a junior with concentrations government and education.

Even before being inaugurated Sunday, Palaniappan was meeting with Harvard administrators to address some of the same issues she and her running mate, Julia Huesa, ran on in November.

“This morning, we were dealing a university president, stressing the cultural climate that exists in the school,” the 21-year-old Palaniappan said last week. “A lot of us have been thinking about the allegations of sexual misconduct surrounding professors and teaching fellows and their interactions with students. It’s a major concern in the university. Me and my vice president think it’s a really important issue.”

Palaniappan, a 2016 Linn-Mar graduate, was the council’s education chairwoman, organized student town halls as well as student-faculty dinners to increase communication on campus and participated in efforts to establish a multicultural center on campus.

A focus of her campaign was “supporting students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds at the school,” said Palaniappan, whose parents, Saradha and Palaniappan Andiappan, emigrated from India.

“A lot of people agree that a school like Harvard was not made for students from all backgrounds when it was first created,” she said. “I think there is a lot to be done when you think about people of color, first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds.”

She wants to concentrate on programming and policies to best advance their interests as well.

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Palaniappan sees her new role as a way to have a “really meaningful way to impact change on campus.”

“Having my experience on the council the past two years, I can see us making tangible differences,” she said. “I see student government as a really effective way to affect other people’s lives, to get administrators to think intentionally and making decisions with a much better understanding of the reality of what students are facing on campus.”

Palaniappan has been “kind of nudged” to be less involved in her other activities to devote as much time and energy to student government as possible.

“It will be time-consuming,” she said. Previous undergraduate council officers have told her “it’s basically a full-time job and you’re doing classes in addition.”

She hopes to continue teaching civic engagement lessons to Boston fifth-graders and plans to choreograph a Bollywood dance in the spring.

Palaniappan also hopes to stay involved in Iowa Democratic politics when she’s home over the summer and after graduation in 2020.

She was “heavily focused” on the midterm elections and is looking forward to the 2020 presidential election. Palaniappan isn’t backing any particular candidate at this time.

“There’s a lot of discussion of potential people and it will be interesting to see who gets to Iowa,” Palaniappan said, adding, “It’s a very cool moment to tell people here what’s happening in Iowa. One of the first things they ask is, ‘What are the caucuses are like?’”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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