Embracing Challenges: The Making of an Aspiring Change-Maker
By Tiffany Murray-Robertson
As the VCU Wilder School community eagerly anticipates the upcoming Fall Graduation Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 8, we spotlight a remarkable Fall Class of 2023 member, Jada Whitley. Whitley, set to graduate with dual undergraduate degrees in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, has been honored with the role of student speaker, representing her class. In anticipation of this significant event, we had the opportunity to sit down with Whitley and delve into her inspiring academic journey, exploring the challenges, triumphs, and aspirations that have shaped her time at VCU.
In the vibrant academic landscape of VCU’s Wilder School, Jada Whitley’s journey is a testament to dedication and transformative learning. As a first-generation college student from Newport News, Virginia, her academic path, embracing dual majors in criminal justice and homeland security and emergency preparedness (HSEP), showcases resilience, ambition, and profound personal growth.
Growing up in the Hampton Roads area, Whitley’s early interest in criminal justice was influenced by friends and family interactions with law enforcement, sparking her curiosity about the field’s complexities. “I’ve always been fascinated with law enforcement… it’s fundamental importance as well as its capriciousness,” she reflects. This interest led her to VCU, attracted by its acclaimed criminal justice program and the prospect of learning in the dynamic environment of Virginia’s capital.
A Pivot Point: Discovering a Passion for Human Trafficking Issues
Whitley’s academic focus shifted during her second year at VCU. “This was perhaps my first important college lesson—that not every plan moving forward would be linear,” Whitley says, reflecting on the evolution of her academic interests. Initially concentrating on criminal justice, she added Homeland Security as a second major to expand her academic and career perspectives at the encouragement of an advisor. A pivotal course on human trafficking, taught by Professor Maureen Moslow-Benway, ignited a deep-seated interest. “I feel like human trafficking awakened something in me,” Whitley shares, redirecting her aspirations from FBI ambitions to a potential role in the Department of Homeland Security.
Influences and Leadership: Shaping a Future Leader
Transformative experiences and mentorships enriched Whitley’s VCU experience. Her internship at the General Assembly with Delegate Dan Helmer was particularly influential. “Being in that position, directly involved in policy-making, opened my eyes. I began to see myself as someone who could enact positive changes in the world through policy,” she recounts.
Faculty members, particularly Professors Moslow-Benway and Brad Lehman were crucial in expanding Whitley’s academic perspective and connecting her with networks vital for her career.
Whitley’s leadership roles, notably as Vice President of the National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice at VCU, underscore her commitment to community engagement. Her efforts to revive the club post-COVID and organize student favorites like murder mystery night highlight her leadership and dedication to a vibrant community.
A Vision for the Future: Gaining Confidence and Preparing for Graduate Studies
As a first-generation college student, Whitley acknowledges unique challenges and expectations. Her family’s pride has been a constant motivator. “They just want me to succeed,” Whitley smiles, acknowledging the significance of her educational achievements.
Whitley advises her siblings and peers to maintain self-belief and advocacy in their education. “You just have to remain confident... push your voice out and do not allow anyone to silence you,” she counsels, emphasizing the importance of confidence in educational pursuits.
The diversity at VCU profoundly influenced Whitley’s choice, reflecting America’s broader diversity. “Everyone here is different. Everyone here is unique,” she notes, valuing the inclusive and diverse campus environment.
As Whitley looks ahead to her graduate studies, she reflects on her growth at VCU with gratitude. “The Wilder School equipped me with confidence and essential tools for success,” she remarks, acknowledging the profound impact of her education. Her journey at VCU, characterized by personal empowerment and transformative learning, has set the stage for her future endeavors in homeland security. Her trajectory, marked by resilience and determination, inspires all students aspiring to effect positive change in the world.