Spencer Whitney is a fourth-year majoring in Commerce and Economics. He currently serves as Chair of the University Board of Elections (UBE), which is responsible for coordinating all undergraduate and graduate student elections at UVA. In addition, he serves as a Counselor on the University Judiciary Committee (UJC) and previously served as the Secretary of Third Year Council for the Class of 2021.
What led you to your service work?
My grandfather served in the Navy and then as a police officer for many years, and from an early age, he instilled in me a sense of service and benevolence that I have always carried with me. He inspired me to join the University Judiciary Committee in my first semester at UVA, and I ended up enjoying the job so much that I wanted to find new ways to give back to the University Community. I joined a Madison House program and became a peer advisor, and everything else just spiraled from that.
What has been the most rewarding aspect that comes with your community involvements?
The most rewarding aspect that comes from my community involvements is meeting lots of amazing people that I would never have encountered otherwise at UVA. Through the Board of Elections, I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to candidates and organizations with incredibly diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking, and as a result, my worldview is constantly changing for the better.
How has the virtual transition affected your involvements? Has your definition of service remained the same?
The virtual transition has severely altered the way that my involvements work, especially with respect to the Board of Elections. It is already difficult to combat feelings of student apathy towards elections at UVA without a global pandemic, but now with the virtual transition, students feel less connected to the University than ever before. In my role, I need to find ways to motivate students to be interested in student self-governance, and show them that the work that their elected student leaders do is meaningful and affects them on a day-to-day basis. With the shift to online classes and students secluded to their residences, this job has become even more difficult.
Finally, this virtual transition has dramatically accelerated the Board of Elections' digital transition. Over the past six months, we've overhauled our website and built new systems to digitize previously paper-based processes like gathering petition signatures. We've also had to rethink how to successfully market to students in a completely digital environment, and rewrite a lot of our rules and regulations in order to make it as easy as possible to run and vote in the upcoming Spring 2021 Elections.
I think that my definition of service has definitely stayed the same because the problems that I am trying to solve have not gone away. Rather, this virtual transition has just forced everyone to adapt and think about ways to solve their problems from different angles.
How would you encourage others to get involved?
My advice to anyone who wants to get involved at UVA is to just join something you find interesting. I feel like a lot of people (myself included) come to UVA and try to have their whole college experience planned out from the moment they step foot on Grounds. However, I've found that the experiences and involvements that I've enjoyed the most at UVA have come from the places that I least expect them to. If I were you, I would join anything regardless of the perceived "prestige" or how it looks on a resume if I thought I would actually be happy while I was doing it.
What has been the greatest class you have taken at UVA?
I've been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a lot of amazing classes at UVA, like Dracula with Stanley Stepanic and Commercial Law with Sherri Moore. However, despite my love for those classes, the most interesting course that I've ever taken at UVA is the Organizational Behavior component of ICE in the McIntire School of Commerce that is taught by Kieran O'Connor. This course changed how I view the world and how I interact in team environments. Furthermore, it is the only class that I know of where you can build Lego robots, solve a murder mystery, and negotiate a movie deal in one semester.
What is your favorite UVA tradition?
My favorite UVA tradition is Streaking the Lawn. It is an essential part of the UVA experience, and for better or for worse, everyone always has lasting memories from it.
If you could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?
If I could do one thing to make the world a better place, I would fix the crumbling infrastructure in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Inefficiencies in our roads, bridges, dams, etc. are causing economic progress to slow and costing us billions of dollars per year. Politicians on both sides of the aisle recognize that this is a serious issue, but unfortunately, they are currently divided on how to finance it.