Amid the rapid changes and challenges that have so distinctively marked our spring semester, the importance of having a community to rely upon and cherish has become increasingly apparent. Throughout my time at the College of William and Mary, I have been lucky enough to become friends with two members of the Tribe who value this sense of community and this commitment to taking action to support those around them with incomparable gravity. Senate Chair Anthony Joseph ’21 and Sen. Kyle Vasquez ‘21 are undoubtedly fantastic leaders, team members, students and friends, and there are no two members of the College community more equipped to serve as Student Assembly President and Vice President in the upcoming year.
Although I hadn’t met him at the time, I remember my first impression of Joseph being one of admiration. I, like many other concerned students, attended the SA meeting following the discovery of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s past use of blackface. At that meeting, Joseph presented the Higher Standard Resolution and urged his fellow senators to take a stand against the blatant racism of Northam’s act. Since then, he has still been vocal in his advocacy for the acknowledgment and destruction of racist legacies on campus. This was shown most recently in his sponsorship of the Cypher Award Act, addressing and changing the name of an award that was previously named after a Confederate-sympathizing College president.
Upon meeting Vasquez, I was immediately struck by his ability to lead others in a way that makes individuals feel valued. He has also been adamant in his push for inclusivity throughout his time as a senator. Earlier this semester, he played a key role in the planning and implementation of “I Am W&M” Week, a celebration of the unique racial and ethnic identities, sexual orientations and religious backgrounds that make the College more special. Most recently, Vasquez has been a fierce supporter of the Pride in ID Appearance Act, a bill covering students’ costs for changing their ID photos and thus key in affirming the identities of trans students on campus.
Considering this prior commitment to inclusivity on campus, the platform upon which they are running for president and vice president is no exception. The two promise to introduce newly strengthened approaches to everything from public affairs to sustainability. Most notable is their emphasis on mental health and wellness, with plans to hire new counselors to the Wellness Center staff – with an emphasis on employing more therapists of color – to train first-year students in mental health literacy during their orientation, and to increase the number of conversations on campus involving stigmatized topics like mental health and STDs.
“Stepping back from the bullet points and big ideas, a central theme becomes incredibly evident: they have a desire to listen.”
Additionally, in line with their previously demonstrated commitment to making all students feel welcome, the two will work towards making campus a more accessible place through initiatives like refitting all halls to be accessible and hosting panels and campaigns meant to destigmatize and inform students about Student Accessibility Services. Through taking actions towards renaming buildings currently named after racist historical figures, supporting cultural houses as they transition into new spaces, and pushing for reparations for the College’s historical use of enslaved labor, Joseph and Vasquez will continue to make changes to ensure all students feel like they belong. Graduate students won’t be excluded from this recognition, either, as the two wish to introduce a Graduate Affairs department to SA’s executive branch.
Stepping back from the bullet points and big ideas, a central theme becomes incredibly evident: they have a desire to listen. It is in their commitment to consulting consent-advocacy groups to enrich their Title IX support, their goal of sparking conversations with students about their unique mental health needs, their jump to support students as they face hardships caused by the current pandemic — it is in their compassion and earnest desire to make the College an even better place than our current leaders, SA President Kelsey Vita ’20 and SA Vice President Ellie Thomas ‘20, have left it.
I support Joseph and Vasquez because they are committed to supporting and upholding our community here at the College. They have already broken barriers and paved a brighter future, and, with your support, they will continue to do that and so much more in the year to come.