As a newly elected student member of the Board of Visitors – The Cavalier Daily, Lillian Rojas seeks equal representation and greater security
Having held several student council positions, Batten third year student Lillian Rojas will now serve as a student member of the Visitors Committee for the upcoming 2023-2024 academic year. Rojas wants to be a voice for all students, especially regarding their views on safety on site and the 2030 Strategic Plan.
The student member serves as a non-voting member of the Visitors Committee and is selected by members of the committee and a student council selection committee. As the student representative in the committee’s decisions, Rojas expects challenges in giving an equal voice to all student opinions, including those with which she personally disagrees.
“It’s not an easy task at all when you’re trying to get a collective perspective,” Rojas said. “It will be a big challenge to make sure the board knows what all the students are saying, and not just what the loudest students are saying.”
Rojas – the successor to Lily Roberts, current student board member and fourth-year architecture student – was elected on March 3.
Rojas currently serves as chairwoman of the student council and has been a representative of the student council since her first year of study. While she won’t be a member of the student council in her new role, she plans to continue working on long-term solutions to issues affecting the entire student body.
Rojas said she plans to prioritize working with the board to improve safety for students on and off site – particularly in light of the Shoot in November and the recent spike in gun-related community alerts. Rojas said the board needs to take steps to make Grounds feel safer and the Charlottesville community as a whole better.
“[There are] a lot of issues with security, I think that’s something that every single student at U.Va can collectively agree on,” Rojas said.
Rojas also said a key concern of hers is the growing division on the board. They’ve been around since controversial text messages from board member Bert Ellis were leaked screams by students and faculty for his inappropriate behavior. At a full board meeting on March 3, the rector of the University of Whittington Clement declared sentenced the news and said they were unprofessional. Ellis apologized to the board.
“The board got very political very, very quickly,” Rojas said. “I think now is the time for Grounds students to put those differences aside and step over the aisle and work with people they wouldn’t normally have worked with.”
Rojas hopes that as a student member, she will be a voice that builds coalitions and brings students together. Fostering unity and non-partisan perspectives are ways she hopes to improve relationships between students and between board members as they seek solutions to problems.
She said one way to encourage democracy and dialogue between students with different beliefs is through the Karsh Institute for Democracy, a new center designed to face the challenges of democracy. The institute, funded by a $50 million donation from Martha and Bruce Karsh, will be located in a redevelopment of the Emmet Ivy corridor as part of the university Strategic Plan 2030.
“I’m very excited to be speaking more with the board about steps that can be taken to improve democracy and improve dialogue here at Grounds,” Rojas said.
The Strategic Plan 2030 – an initiative aimed at making the university the best public university by the end of the decade – is one of the main projects overseen by the board. Launched in 2019, the plan includes a variety of initiatives, including increasing funding for research initiatives, improving sustainability and creating a campus in Northern Virginia.
Rojas said that through her role as student voice representative on the board, she plans to update members on what aspects of the 2030 plan are successful and how they are impacting students. The expansion of financial aid is one of the plan’s initiatives that she is proud of, as it makes the university more accessible to students.
“I think we can continue to expand that and allow more and more students to come to us [the University] at a price that actually suits them, rather than exaggerating,” said Rojas.
She also mentioned that she is excited about the plan to have second graders live on the premises, as she believes it will be beneficial for the students to continue to live with a diverse group of other students they would otherwise live with had no contact.
Rojas said she will continue to represent students and advocate for student leadership, which she believes should be kept informed. Rojas hopes they continue to see the work the students are doing in making changes and bringing new students into the university’s traditions.
“I want the board to know the students are here [the University], we value student self-government,” said Rojas. “It may look different than it did when certain board members came here, what it means and what it looks like, but it’s changing for the better.”