During his time in office, outgoing Student Assembly President Yohance Whitaker ’16 supported legislation that would allocate funds to buy Open Educational Resource textbooks, was part of a team that launched the SA website, and signaled his support for mandatory diversity classes.
However, Whitaker said that he felt his biggest accomplishment had less to do with legislation than the relationships he formed and the connections he made while in office.
“I think that this year more so than others, the Student Assembly was able to find its heart, was able to find what were the issues and areas where our voice as student government, as a student union, was most needed and would have the most impact,” Whitaker said. “I was proud to see Student Assembly act in those areas. On the point of advocacy, I think the Student Assembly did an excellent job advocating for things like cheaper textbooks, at building community. A lot of the programs that came from our diversity initiatives department I think really helped to expand the scope of what it means to be one family here at William and Mary. I also think we were able to be more transparent, in hosting office hours and the release of our new website.”
The SA website was launched in the midst of the 2016-2017 SA elections. Students responsible for the website launch cited bureaucratic difficulties as a reason for the delay. Now, the website features the names and contact information of senators and SA cabinet members, in addition to biographical data.
“I don’t tend to focus too much on what could have been done differently,” Whitaker said. “I think that people will often, more so than what you do, people will remember how you went about doing it. So for us, it was crucial for me and for the team that whenever we were acting it was in way that was always appropriate, kind.”
I don’t tend to focus too much on what could have been done differently,” Whitaker said.
This semester, senators introduced the Save the Future of Humanity from Excessive Textbook Expenses bill Jan. 26, which would have allocated funds to the Earl Gregg Swem Library for the purchase of Open Educational Resource textbooks. Whitaker campaigned on a plan to make textbooks more affordable to decrease the barriers of higher education for students.
A similar bill, the Textbook Subsidization Act, passed just a few weeks after the inauguration of Whitaker’s successor, Eboni Brown ’17, allocating $5,050 to purchase OER textbooks.
Most recently, following the release of the Task Force on Race and Race Relations’s report, Whitaker supported the One Tribe, Many Perspectives bill. This bill commends the Task Force and signals SA support for the creation of a mandatory set of classes which would deal with issues of diversity as part of the COLL curriculum.
Whitaker said he felt that he accomplished everything he intended to during his term. He said, though, that there was more work to be done.
“There is a lot of work that has been done and there is a lot of work that needs to be done,” Whitaker said. “There is a saying that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. I think that, from what I’ve seen in Student Assembly, we definitely need more hands on deck and it’s not just about a person in their elected office, it’s about what each of us can do in our own circles of influence to make this community a little bit better.”
Following his graduation, Whitaker will take a service year before attending law school. As of now, he is not certain what specifically his service year will entail, but he said he has a few opportunities to choose from.
As far as the future of SA goes, Whitaker said he hoped that next year, each person in SA found their motivation — what helped them get out of bed each morning and helped them bring their passion to Student Assembly.
Whitaker also shared some advice for Brown, who was sworn into office April 6.
“I think it is important to one, enjoy yourself, and to take this very rare opportunity to serve and be a good steward of William and Mary,” Whitaker said. “There is a tremendous amount of good that you can do in this office and it is something that your peers trusted you with. They value your leadership capabilities, they selected you for this responsibility, so never forget that.”
I think it is important to one, enjoy yourself, and to take this very rare opportunity to serve and be a good steward of William and Mary,” Whitaker said.