Neeka Samimi is a third-year in the College of Arts & Sciences in Politics Honors and minoring in Urban and Environmental Planning. She is vice president of Culture of Respect Educators (CORE) and an investigator on the University Judiciary Committee, among other involvements like writing for the Virginia Review of Politics and genuinely enjoying small talk.
What led you to your public service work?
I stumbled across both the CORE and UJC applications in my first year and was interested in the mission of both organizations. CORE is a sexual violence prevention group based around peer education. We hold discussions about topics like consent, bystander intervention, survivor support, and much more, tailoring our interactive scripts to the topics most relevant for the groups to whom we present. We present to every first-year hall in September, to every fraternity pledge class in the spring, and to the many other groups and CIOs who request a presentation from us.
The UJC is the body formally tasked by the University with upholding our Standards of Conduct (which encompasses basically any violation of the law or University policy, aside from lying, cheating, and stealing, which are handled by Honor). What interested me about it is that, at its best, the UJC is a system that holds folks accountable so that everyone can feel safe and respected in the community. UJC sanctions are not meant to be punishments; they are educative and provide a mechanism for ensuring that people don't cause harm to the community.
What has been the most rewarding aspect that comes with your community involvements?
CORE and UJC are very different in that the former is a (fairly scrappy) CIO, while the latter is a formal judicial body. Some of the most rewarding moments for me in CORE have been when we feel that sexual violence prevention is being taken seriously and that we are building supportive coalitions. For example, Housing and Residence Life officially added us to their required first-year programming two years ago. That made me feel really hopeful about the productive work that we are able to do. My favorite part of CORE, though, is facilitating tough conversations after which everyone's perspectives have been broadened. I love helping folks talk through complicated topics and feel empowered to carry that knowledge with them through future interactions.
A lot of the work for UJC cases is very difficult and intense. The most rewarding part of what I do is more big-picture. When I stop to consider the tangible impact of my contributions, I feel motivated. Student self-governance is not a stable given; students have to actively devote their time to it or else it'll fall apart. In that sense, I feel a sort of responsibility to help people who are going through the process of a UJC case in the most empathetic and kind way I can.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your involvements? Has your definition of service remained the same?
Well, the pandemic absolutely sucked. It's so hard to feel connected to any semblance of community from behind a screen. I think we've all learned to be more resilient and adaptable, which are important for service under any circumstance. I am definitely now more attuned to how we should meet people where they are. We have to work based on community input and engagement instead of on our own terms as organizations.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
Honestly, my sincere advice is to not just chase clout! Getting involved at UVA can feel intimidating, especially as so many groups have competitive application processes. But that shouldn't discourage you – you will find fulfilling and rewarding groups that deserve your time and energy. And maybe some of those organizations will happen to be the ones with the most name recognition on Grounds, or maybe not.
What has been the greatest class you have taken at UVA?
One of my favorite classes I'm in right now is Community-Engaged Methods in Urban Planning with Barbara Brown Wilson. She's incredibly kind, knowledgeable, and a huge inspiration. The class is about how we can work ethically and meaningfully in communities, so I really hope to take those lessons with me wherever I land in the future.
What is your favorite UVA tradition?
I love singing the Good Old Song at sporting events and other fun occasions. Being surrounded by a sea of students as we all sing this silly song wildly off-key makes me feel connected in a really joyful way to the whole community.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
I think it would be awesome if more people kept in mind the mentality of "first, do no harm" instead of just assuming that they can only do good when they work in a community. Those who do service with a condescending, privileged sense of hubris can often end up ignoring people's actual concerns and lived experiences. This applies to any kind of public service at UVA and beyond. Try to come from a place of humility!