Anthony White: The institutional activist

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

Most students know me as the president of the Undergraduate Council of Students or, more likely, as that guy who sent them so many emails throughout the year. I never expected to be that guy. In fact, when I first heard of UCS, I was hesitant and skeptical after a lackluster high school student government experience. I was more interested in participating in political activities on campus.

During my first-year Activities Fair, I looked around eagerly for organizations that would allow me to have an impact while satisfying my interest in politics. I signed up for Brown Democrats immediately. But something curious happened when I passed the UCS table. The UCS president and vice president took the time to speak to me and convinced me to go to the first UCS meeting.

“Student government is so much better in college,” they told me. I went to my first UCS meeting and was unmoved. But I met interesting people at that meeting who would become my good friends. I came for them, week after week, and they encouraged me to stay involved. As I worked with them on projects and began to see what students could do to have an impact on the University, my commitment to UCS solidified.

The people make UCS, not the infrastructure. If I was passionate about something, I could make it happen if I put in the work. This reality unfolded when I advocated for Opportunity RI, a program working to provide tax credits for students who stay and work in Rhode Island after graduation. I got UCS, the Brown Democrats and the Brown Republicans to collaborate in support and provide testimony for the program. Through UCS, I found that I could make a substantial difference. The only true limit was my level of commitment and my drive, both of which amplified over the years.

In my junior year, I had the incredible experience of co-founding Brown for Financial Aid, which displayed the power of student activism. I also realized the power of institutional knowledge. UCS provided me with the tools to make a compelling case for need-blind financial aid and increased affordability. I realized that I was passionate about improving the student experience overall, and I had gained the knowledge and ability to be an effective advocate. The UCS presidency would put me in a place to realize my goals for Brown and to realize my potential as a change-maker.

Over this past year, the UCS presidency has enabled me to be an effective advocate for Divest Coal, service learning and financial aid while overseeing immediate changes — new Morning Mail, anyone? — and learning much about myself. Over 12 months, I learned my limits, exceeded my personal expectations, saw the power of effective teamwork and found the benefits of trusting council members to pursue their goals to the best of their abilities.

Unequivocally, my first-year assumption about the UCS presidency was dead wrong. The presidency does not have to be bureaucratic cog. It truly was what I made of it. This position has provided amazing memories and allowed me the privilege to work with the incredible Brown student body to effect change that will impact generations of Brunonians to come.

Anthony White will be teaching elementary school in Las Vegas next year. Running a camel farm was a close second.