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Government Majors Lead Student Assembly Efforts on Renaming

It’s not uncommon for William & Mary’s Student Assembly to be staffed and led by women and men studying government. But few SA administrations have drawn more government students—or had an effect as welcome—as that led by government major Anthony “A.J.” Joseph ’21. His leadership, and that of his team, encouraged the university to rename several buildings on campus this academic year—including the Government Department’s home. The Student Assembly’s keen research, outreach, and advocacy helped the university community understand the need to “tackle systemic racial injustice at William & Mary,” as the title of a 2020 SA Plan put it.

Joseph, like Kelsey Vita ’20, another recent government major and SA President, recruited many government and related majors into his administration in the Spring of 2020. Between two and three dozen majors staffed SA’s Senate and Executive branch. Fully half of the Government Department’s Student Diversity Fellows—Aria Austin, Ifeoma Ayika, Vicky Morales, Shane Moran, and Helen Tariku—served in Student Assembly and helped lead the effort. Other majors, including Keyyatta Bonds and Salimata Sanfo, assisted from outside the Student Assembly.

“The Plan to Tackle Systemic Racial Injustice at William & Mary”—helpfully, “The Plan”—was developed during the summer of 2020 in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other African Americans. The SA addressed the Plan’s goals through myriad meetings over the summer; these gatherings continued through the 2020–2021 academic year. In February the SA deployed a referendum on renaming which drew more than 2,500 student responses. Sixty percent of respondents desired clearer renaming guidelines and building names less likely to contribute to a hostile environment for students of color.

Joseph incorporated his fellow students’ views into two sets of remarks to the Board of Visitors during the Spring 2021 semester. During his last, on Friday, April 23, he encouraged the university to carry forward its progress. “[W]e must build the infrastructure to ensure to ensure equity at the university,” he said. “Build pathways for students to feel heard and seen. . . . Don’t allow the shadow of our past to continue to grow.”

For more information about the Student Assembly’s continuing work, visit https://www.wm.edu/sites/studentassembly/index.php. To follow the Government Department’s ongoing efforts to create a community that welcomes and values all visit https://www.wm.edu/as/government/diversity-equity-inclusion/index.php.