New Student BOV Representative Has Been a Leader Since Arriving on Grounds

March 26, 2024 By Mike Mather, Mike Mather,

Lisa Kopelnik was a middle schooler in the San Francisco Bay area when she first heard of the University of Virginia. It was her debate coach’s alma mater and he spoke fondly of UVA.

As she got older and a started exploring her growing interest in politics, she remembered her coach’s praise of UVA, she was intrigued by the concept of student self-governance, and she was excited about the school’s proximity to Washington, D.C. She enrolled as a Jefferson Scholar.

Shortly after arriving on Grounds, she joined the University Judiciary Committee as a first-year representative. Now, as a third-year student, she serves as the committee’s chair. Earlier this month, Kopelnik took another significant step in her commitment to student self-governance: She was appointed as the student representative to the Board of Visitors. The position offers an opportunity to serve as a liaison between students, faculty and the 17-member governor-appointed panel that oversees many of the University’s functions. She will succeed Lillian Rojas, who is graduating this year.

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Kopelnik said her goals focus on facilitating civil discourse, promoting socioeconomic diversity and accessibility, and attending to student safety and well-being. “I’m really passionate about making UVA a safer place where everyone can continue feeling at home,” she said. She also plans to explore how to make the UVA experience more accessible for lower-income students.

Kopelnik praised Rojas’ leadership, especially in supporting students affected by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Kopelnik said she feels ready to take on the challenges that the new role will bring. One of those challenges is to recognize what students are feeling in relation to the war in Gaza.

“Many of my peers, especially those from affected communities, are in a great deal of pain,” Kopelnik said. “But I also think there is an opportunity at the same time to push for deeper conversations. And UVA is the place to do that.”

Kopelnik, who is Jewish, has firsthand experience with war. Her parents are from Ukraine. “It’s been a difficult time for my family, especially seeing how my parents have lost childhood friends as a result of the war with Russia,” she said.

When she was a first-year representative on the Judiciary Committee, the student-run body that weighs evidence and issues sanctions for violations of University rules, Kopelnik began forging relationships across Grounds to better understand her classmates and their needs so she would be a fair arbiter for all students.

Portrait of Lisa Kopelnik Sitting

In her new role, Kopelnik essentially will be a liaison between the students and the faculty and Board of Visitors. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“It has been one of the most rewarding things I have done at this University, to lead this committee,” said Kopelnik, who plans to attend law school with the goal of becoming a judge.

Kopelnik said the relationships she’s built along the way will show her classmates she’ll be an advocate for all students in board meetings.

“There is a need to build consensus now more than ever,” she said. “People really want to find solutions, and people want the University to be a place where all students feel welcome.”

Kopelnik remembers the support she felt during her first year at a vigil for Ukraine. She also saw the best in the UVA community during her second year when three football players – Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. – were killed on Grounds. She said that sense of community is the reason for her optimism about – and love for – the University.

“What has given me hope, and what has given hope to my community and to other communities as well, is that there is a desire to learn,” she said.

And she says she has faith that, no matter what lies ahead, Wahoos have the capacity to respectfully disagree, because they share a bond.

“UVA is a family, not just at the University, but for life,” Kopelnik said. “Families have arguments all the time. But my job is to help keep that family together by representing every student.”

Media Contact

Mike Mather

Managing Editor University Communications