Rarely do we see student-athletes, football players, get involved in political matters that affect the universities where they play. We’re not talking about student government, but the politics that happen within the university, disputes between workers or teachers and administration
Virginia safety Joseph Williams is changing that.
For the past eight days, Williams, a junior walk-on who has played in two games during his career, has been on a hunger strike “to protest the economic and social injustices perpetrated by the UVa administration against the vast majority of the University’s service-sector employees.”
Williams, a political and social thought major, wrote an eloquent and poignant essay about why he was participating in the hunger strike with the Living Wage Campaign.
Our University seeks to distinguish itself as a caring community and prides itself on traditions of honor and student self-governance. However, in our “caring community,” hundreds of contract employees may make as little as $7.25/hour while six out of the top ten highest paid state employees in Virginia hold administrative positions at the University. Many employees, mostly women and African Americans, do not receive enough pay for their basic necessities to exist in Charlottesville, where the cost of living is nearly 10% higher than the national average. This extreme inequality has disturbed and disillusioned students for decades, many of whom have tried to grapple with issues of race, class, and poverty in and out of the classroom.
It’s not often that you read this kind of political discourse by such a young man, and let’s be honest, a football player. But Williams is not your ordinary student-athlete. He graduated from Dominion (Sterling, Va.) High when he was 16. In his essay he notes that he was one of four children supported by a single mother and that he lived in 30 different places, including many homeless shelters, which gave him a profound appreciation for socioeconomic challenges.
He walked on at Virginia at age 17 and has been refining his knowledge of politics ever since.
He does not say how long he plans to stay on strike, but as of Thursday, 18 students were involved in the cause. It’s interesting, and even somewhat refreshing, to see a student-athlete go to the extremes for what he believes.