Phoebe Willis is not the University's typical second-year Law student. In addition to writing papers and studying for tests, Willis also has the lofty task of representing the 23,000 students at the University to the Board of Visitors.
Willis was recently selected to be the Board of Visitor’s new student member. In this position, she will advocate for the best interests of University students.
“If the board is considering something, they ask for my student perspective,” Willis said. “For example, the board is considering upperclassman housing right now, and they want to know what areas of Grounds students would rather live closer to. It’s my job to go out and talk to students and see how they’re feeling.”
Willis plans to set goals for herself as she prepares for the beginning of her term in June.
“I want to reach out to different student organizations and be present at events,” Willis said. “I want people to feel free to over-invite me to things; I am going to try my best to be a presence. People shouldn’t have to make an extra effort to tell me their feelings. If I’m doing my job right, I will already be there.”
Willis’s passionate connection to the University community drove her to apply to be a student member of the BOV. She has three siblings — one who currently attends the University, one who previously attended and one who will be attending in the fall.
“Having my three siblings all go to U.Va., and us all having such different interests, it really speaks to the diversity of options that U.Va. offers,” Willis said. “Whatever your interest is, it’s going to be well-run and do great things.”
In addition to being a second-year Law student, Willis attended the University as an undergraduate, where she played on the varsity field hockey team. While she devoted a significant amount of time to athletics, Willis also raised money for childhood cancer through St. Baldrick’s.
“In November when field hockey ended, I decided to shave my head for child cancer research,” Willis said. “Through that process, I was supported by so many people throughout the University and the alumni community. That environment was really special. To have the opportunity to help keep this place so great, and ensure it stays that way in the future, that’s the dream.”
She will begin her term in June, entering the role as fourth-year College student Daniel Judge, a political philosophy, policy and law and philosophy double major, finishes his year-long term.
“I am really excited about Phoebe being the new student member,” Judge said. “She’s really prepared, she sees the University through the perspective of a graduate, a former undergrad, a student athlete [and] so many other perspectives, and she’ll serve the University and the board really well.”
As Judge begins the last phase of his term and Willis prepares to begin the first of hers, the two have been collaborating on the transition process.
“It’s really a credit to Daniel because he’s such an open and welcoming person,” Willis said. “I don’t want to jump in and reinvent the wheel. I want to build off of what Daniel’s done — he’s actually laid a really great foundation.”
Willis plans to continue the practice of holding office hours for the student body Judge instated during his term.
“He has office hours every week on main Grounds and the Law School,” Willis said. “I talked to him about maybe expanding that concept to different schools on Grounds, so having office hours at the E-school, or the [Architecture] school. By doing that, we’d have 11 or 12 locations as opposed to a couple.”
Willis’s overall goal for the year is to promote more transparency about the BOV and its role at the University.
“Its 2016, this position shouldn’t just be a ‘word of mouth’ thing. Everyone should have equal opportunity to apply,” Willis said. “BOV makes some really important long-term decisions that would impact future students. Current students have a great perspective on the needs of future students because they’re the ones living college [life] at the University right now.”
While Willis does not officially start until June, she is already hard at work planning for the year ahead.
“What better way to give back to a university that has given not only me so much, but also my family and most of my closest friends, than to help make it a better place?” Willis said.