WANG: The past, present and future of U.Va.

Students to shape the University for the next generation of students

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Your voice matters, and you will determine how we address the University’s past, present and future.

Courtesy Derrick Wang

My name is Derrick Wang, and last month marked the beginning of my term as the Student Member of the Board of Visitors for the 2019-2020 academic year. If we haven’t met yet, I hope we have a chance to chat this year, but in the meantime here’s a short introduction. I am a fourth-year from Richmond, Virginia studying economics and math. I’m known for — among other things — running outreach for the Honor Committee, cooking elaborate recipes, wearing tasteful scarves and knowing a lot about how the University works. This year, my role will be to represent students on the BOV.

If you aren’t familiar, the BOV is the highest governing body of the University, overseeing the Academic Division, the Health System and the College at Wise. The Board is responsible for long-term planning and approving all major decisions at U.Va. This includes everything from construction like the Emmet-Ivy Corridor or Brandon Avenue, to academic programs like the School of Data Science, to financial matters like the budget and the recent tuition freeze. The role of student member has existed since 1983, and under state law, I serve as a nonvoting advisory member of the Board. My job is twofold — first, to act as a sounding board for the Board’s decisions that affect students and second, to communicate the effects of these decisions to student constituencies.

In this role, I will seek to connect with the thousands of undergraduate, graduate and professional students at U.Va. in order to understand their concerns and bring them to the Board. I want students to feel like the top levels of administration understand the issues that affect your day-to-day lives. I also want students to understand the big decisions facing the University, so that they feel informed and are able to offer input. 

In many ways, the University is at an important crossroads. With our new president finishing his first year and releasing a strategic plan for the next decade, we have an opportunity to shape the University for the next generation of students. This plan lays out a series of potentially transformational proposals for the University. President Jim Ryan has articulated a vision for the University to be both “great and good.” In my view, this means that U.Va. must be an institution that not only provides accessible and excellent educational value to students, but it must also teach students, faculty and staff to be ethical and service-oriented leaders.

However, our long and complicated history shows that U.Va. has not always lived up to these high values of great and good. Recognizing our historical relationship with injustices like slavery, eugenics and segregation is only the first step towards creating a University that will serve society through inclusion rather than perpetuate inequity through exclusion. That is why I look forward to the completion of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers this fall, as well as the implementation of the living wage for employees and other recommendations from the

President’s Community Working Group on improving our relationship with the Charlottesville. community. We as students must be advocates and partners in making the University a more inclusive space for students, faculty, staff and community members — this will require our sustained attention and effort. However, I am confident that we can create a University that supports all members of our community so long as we remain focused on that goal.

This marks a rare opportunity for students to shape the future of the University. It’s easy for us to get caught up in the day-to-day of our lives, worrying about our next class or meeting. However, as students we understand better than anyone the reality of the student experience. I am extraordinarily privileged to have a place at the decision-making table. With this privilege comes a responsibility to advocate for students, especially those who are marginalized or under-represented. That’s why I chose to present on mental health and financial accessibility as my first topics to the Board. But I am only one individual with one set of opinions and experiences — for me to be effective, I will require help from all 24,000 students here.

I will be updating the student body regularly on what I’m doing through email newsletters, social media and in-person meetings with student groups. But mostly, I want to hear about your U.Va. experience — what made it good, bad or everything in between. 

I encourage you to connect with me through email (studentmember@virginia.edu), Facebook messaging (@uvastudentmember) or just dropping by my room in the fall (23 West Lawn). 

Remember — your voice matters, and you will determine how we address the University’s past, present and future.

Derrick Wang is a fourth-year student in the College and the Student Member of the Board of Visitors. He can be reached at studentmember@virginia.edu

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