Allison White, a JMU alumna (‘94) with a degree in political science, is campaigning as a candidate for the Virginia Beach City Council. White’s run for political office reflects the nationwide trend of increasing numbers of women seeking candidacy in midterm elections, which can be seen prominently on Virginia’s upcoming November ballots. As the first transgender person to run for Virginia Beach City Council, White feels she brings a unique perspective and experience as a candidate. As a public school teacher, White also carries many years of experience in public service.
White’s campaign focuses on issues such as higher pay for teachers and public safety officers, improving Virginia Beach’s flood protection, increasing economic development and equal opportunity for Virginia Beach’s citizens. Many of her issues reflect her background as a teacher and member of the LGBTQ community. She believes her election would contribute to diversity and innovation on the city council.
After graduating from JMU, White earned a law degree from the University of Akron, followed by a master’s degree in education from Old Dominion University. She’s spent the past 15 years as a public school teacher and is currently a social studies teacher in the international baccalaureate program at King’s Fork High School in Suffolk County. White is a native of Virginia Beach and attended Cox High School before studying at JMU, where she further developed an interest in seeking public office.
“Right now I work with 25 kids to a class, and that’s my focus,” White said. “Now it’s just going to be working with 450,000 people. It’s the same principle — it’s trying to make a positive impact.”
White’s sense of community as a resident of Virginia Beach has fueled her campaign and so has her desire to become part of an accepting community. While she’s not running because she’s transgender, she feels responsible to include her story as part of the larger reason she decided to run for city council.
“Running as a trans person, I wanted to raise awareness that there are trans people, and we can do big things,” White said. “I wanted to break stereotypes and I wanted to show that there are trans people in Virginia Beach who are working hard to make a positive impact on their community.”
The JMU political science department has nine alumni currently holding public office in Virginia. Most prominent are Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, and Levar Stoney, mayor of Richmond. In the Virginia House of Delegates, Dickie Bell, Chris Collins, Jay Leftwich and Jason Miyares are all JMU graduates. In the Virginia Senate, JMU alumni include Emmet Hanger, Scott Surovell and Ryan McDougle.
One reason for the prevalence of former Dukes on the list of Virginia politicians is that the political science department aims to unite the students who focus the diverse major with shared values. Scott Hammond, the political science major coordinator, was named by White as a professor in the major who left a strong impression on her while she studied at JMU. Hammond believes the various disciplines of political science teach students like White how to think critically, to express themselves and be active participants in political and social institutions.
“Most of us don’t have the affinity to be able to make big changes,” Hammond said. “But if we can each do something in our own corner of the world, that’s something. I think that we aspire to guide our students into a love of learning and to convert that into a care for their fellow citizens.”
The political science department allowed White to develop the skills and knowledge she would need for her career as a teacher of AP U.S. Government and IB history classes. What she learned at JMU contributed to her decision to earn a law degree. As a current political candidate, the time spent in the political science major gave White the basis for her campaign.
“I try to tell the students that I’m teaching in high school that these classes won’t necessarily get them a job,” White said. “But it gives them those critical analysis skills that are very important. That’s what it did for me.”
According to Alumni Network Coordinator David Jones, the department also places an unique emphasis on service to the public. Even in the classroom, students are taught to approach issues with the weight of real scenarios, not just as hypothetical exercises.
For political science alumna like White, the choice to campaign for public office stems from a personal ambition for public service, and was cultivated by JMU encouraging students to take part in the communities of which they’re members. White is running for city council in Virginia Beach because she believes she can make a difference for the community and citizens she cares for.
“JMU set the tone,” White said. “It was the foundation for where I am today.”
Contact Jamie McEachin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.