Former SA senator, presidential candidate returns to organization as policy adviser

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

Imani Ross – who spent more than two years as a Student Association senator and ran for president in the spring – will now serve as an adviser to Executive Vice President Ojani Walthrust.

Two weeks ago, former Student Association presidential candidate Imani Ross received an unexpected offer to fill a newly created position in the SA as an adviser to Executive Vice President Ojani Walthrust.

Ross, who had spent more than two years on the SA as a senator, had parted ways with the SA just six months before, stepping down from her seat less than two weeks after losing her bid for SA president.

Ross said aside from her academics, she had planned to spend her senior year serving as the secretary for the Williams House – a community where she and Walthurst both live that focuses on black culture – and working at the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.

But when Walthrust proposed the position, Ross said she “couldn’t pass up the offer” to serve as his chief policy director, advising Walthrust on his agenda and prioritizing diversity and inclusion initiatives in the senate. She was confirmed to the position Monday.

“I’ve loved being in the SA, I’ve done it all three years I’ve been here at GW, so it’s still a big part of who I am and my identity on campus,” Ross said. “I always prided myself that I was going to help – no matter the outcome of the election last year – so when he asked, it was a no-brainer.”

Ross said she’s not pursuing any personal projects in her new position, despite a track record that includes spearheading the SA’s inaugural diversity and inclusion assembly, forming a task force examining the history of different building names and writing legislation condemning a racist Snapchat in February.

Instead, she said she will focus on assisting Walthrust in his own executive projects, like creating student liaisons from different student organizations who will correspond with the SA and engaging with senators who want to discuss their own projects with Walthrust or Ian Haimowitz, the senate chief of staff.

“I’m more here to consult Ojani and Ian and strategize and create effective plans and be a fly on the wall for senators,” Ross said. “Out of everyone in the SA, I do have a unique advantage in the sense that I’ve written two pieces of legislation that were extremely effective and then have also done things outside of the legislative body.”

Ross said one of the primary reasons she agreed to return to the SA is to bridge gaps between the black student community and the SA and increase diversity in the senate – something that aligns with Walthrust’s priorities, she said. First, Ross said she wants to promote the diversity summit, which will be held in November, to a larger body of students through the SA’s social media channels.

She said one of the first tasks she and Walthrust will take on is decorating his office with posters of bands and singers, like Alicia Keys, and a world map to make the space more comfortable for Walthrust to work and allow students of color to feel more welcome in the space.

Once the office is finished, which Ross said will be done within the semester, she and Walthrust will host a welcoming party with music and food for the student body.

“He has the desk and the computer and all these supplies, but it’s having a space where people feel like he’s a friend and not the executive vice president,” Ross said. “It’s hard to engage with the SA – we want to dismantle that.”

Walthrust and SA President Ashley Le also redesigned the SA office over the summer to feature new decals of the SA logo and couches.

Walthrust said that as a tenured member of the SA who has worked on initiatives in both the executive and legislative branch, Ross can help to lay the groundwork for senate projects and quickly bring initiatives to fruition. He added that he initially asked Ross to come back to the SA to establish a better support system of close advisers and organize a plan to redesign his office and recruit more students of color to the SA.

“Since freshman year, I always looked up to Imani as someone who was always accomplishing things, as a mentor,” he said. “I know that with her supporting me as chief policy adviser, I think we can work very efficiently together.”

Haimowitz, the senate’s chief of staff, said Ross’ work will differ from his because her sole focus is working on policy initiatives, while he will deal with external communication among senators and officials. He said Ross is needed to ensure Walthrust has an adviser who brings expertise to projects within the legislative and executive branch.

“The biggest thing about her is that she’s an expert,” he said. “I’m brand new to this. I’d rather make sure the senate has someone who has experience, and I hope they’re happy with that.”

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