Before the Fellowship Series
Cassidy L. White
September 18, 2020
- JD, William & Mary Law School, May 2019
- B.A., Political Science, Minor in Psychology, Certificate in Peace Studies, University of Kentucky, May 2016
Leitchfield, Kentucky (home to the great Fiddle Fest)
Legal, regulatory, and policy analysis; Commitment to ending domestic violence and sexual assault; Devoted to interests of public welfare, including social services & health (including behavioral health), and to the active dismantling of oppressive systems via equity in law, healthcare, education, housing, employment, credit, voting, and more
- Virginia Department of Social Services
- Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services
- What is your educational background and what made you pursue those majors, degrees, etc.?
I received my juris doctor degree in May 2019 upon completing three exhilarating (and slightly nauseating) years of law school. William & Mary Law School bestowed upon me many lessons, significantly impacting both my professional and personal development; I’ll continue to tout the decision to attend this school as one of my best, and often wonder if the woman who had attended a different school, or who had chosen a different path entirely, would be much different than the one writing this today (my hunch is that she would be).
Believe me, it is so tempting to write how law was “my calling;” that I knew from a young age that I was destined for public service. But that is not the truth. Although always a believer that government has a great duty to serve its people (greater social services! more libraries!), I was unsure of my career path when entering college. In fact, in my mind, my reasons for obtaining a law degree were mainly pragmatic – lawyers have the opportunity to wield significant authority in this country, and many (or should I say all) of our systems need fixing. Additionally, attorneys possess an assumed intelligence that is given credence – as a young girl who grew up in a town where individuals suggested, and assumed it best, that girls become educators (an important career, no doubt!) simply so that they can have summer breaks off with their children; as a young woman who was consistently interrupted or spoken over by men during class; as a young woman who felt as though “easy” questions were pitched to her compared to her male counterparts; as someone with a thick southern drawl often assumed to be less intelligent, I entered law school so that I didn’t have to work extra hard in every aspect of life to prove myself as competent – the law degree would do it for me. Additionally, as a first-generation college student, I wanted to be able to take care of my parents and siblings in the future should they ever need anything.
Do I now feel that public service is my passion? Absolutely. And the story of how I arrived here does not negate that passion – but I hope it might inspire some to know that you don’t have to know “your passion,” or that you even need to have one as it relates to labor (we can – and should! – have many passions that are completely unrelated to work). Perhaps your passion will find you, or perhaps reading the VMF blog posts will inspire you to consider a profession (or volunteerism) in the public sector. Perhaps public service will ignite a spark.
- Why did you pursue this opportunity [the Virginia Management Fellows Program]? Why are you drawn to public service?
“‘Public service’ is a concept, an attitude, a sense of duty – yes, even a sense of public morality.”
As mentioned previously, I did not apply to law school with a career in public interest in mind. However, I was always cognizant of “the social good.” One reason I chose William & Mary over other law schools, and perhaps it is fair to say it was the deciding factor, is the school’s commitment to the cultivation of citizen lawyers, or those who utilize their law degrees to serve the communities in which they reside. William & Mary describes the citizen lawyer as such:
Jefferson believed that aspiring lawyers should be taught in a university setting and that they should be trained not simply to be excellent legal craftsmen, but also good citizens and leaders of their communities, states, and nations.
During my time at William & Mary, I interned and externed exclusively with nonprofit organizations & clinics – the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance, the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the PELE Special Education Advocacy Clinic. I also served as a Social Justice & Diversity Research Fellow during my final year of law school. Those three years taught me much about myriad systemic injustices and the means necessary to dismantle those systems. Now I want to devote my career to serving others and lifting others up.
When my job search began, I was looking at various fellowship opportunities, positions in advocacy organizations, and positions with think tanks. The goals and mission of the VMF program resonated with me and, oddly enough, a 1990 article produced by the American Society for Public Administration – The Motivational Bases of Public Services – adequately captures why I ultimately chose a position as a public servant. Essentially, Perry & Wise posit that three major “motives” for engaging in public service exist – rational, norm-based, and affective motives. This sounds quite theoretical for a simple “why do you like public service” question, but the examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators provided by the scholars are spot-on in describing my experience.
“Motivators” outlined in this article that encapsulate my motivation to be a public servant include:
- The desire to participate in the formulation of good public policy (Kelman)
- Greater realization of self that emanates from “skillful and devoted exercises of social duties” (Rawls)
- Commitment to a public program because of personal identification with the program and/or possessing a genuine conviction about its social importance (Downs, Gulick)
- Advocacy for a special interest
- A desire to serve the public interest; a unique sense of loyalty to duty (Downs, Buchanan)
- To improve social equity, which involves activities intended to enhance the well-being of minorities who lack political and economic resources (Frederickson)
- The “patriotism of benevolence” – “an extensive love of all people within our political boundaries and the imperative that they must be protected in all of the basic rights granted to them by the enabling documents.” (Frederickson & Hart)
- How has your educational background helped you in your rotations?
My law degree has been indispensable to rotations with both VDSS and DBHDS. Although I often have to inform individuals that I am not authorized to give legal advice (I am not working in an attorney capacity within the agency, but as a Fellow), my mentors have sought out projects that put my legal analysis and writing skills to good use! Many of my projects have been policy/regulatory/legislative-orientated and my legal background has certainly enhanced my understanding of the assignments and assisted with the efficiency with which I can assess and lead projects.
Currently, the Commonwealth is engaging in an Enhancing Employee Engagement initiative aimed to, you guessed it, enhance engagement across the entire state. I have had the great privilege of serving as the Policy Subgroup Team Lead; although it is not necessary to have a law degree to review and formulate effective policy, I firmly believe my degree has given me an “edge,” if you will. In my (biased) opinion, the policies have been reviewed more efficiently and comprehensively with the lens of someone who holds a law degree and has experience with policy advocacy surrounding social justice issues.
- If you could offer a piece of advice to students pursuing a career in public service what would it be?
Please reach out to me! I am happy to speak with anyone who wants to learn more, or connect you with someone if you have a specialized area of interest (you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
I would suggest that individuals research the type of work public servants engage in, but also the mission, vision, and values of the workplace – those are exceptionally telling. I would also inform them that public service is so rewarding – the work is meaningful & you see how it impacts individuals across the state. You will also meet the most amazing people working in public service. Those I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with are dedicated, innovative, person-centered, thoughtful, strategic, and caring.
“Before the Fellowship” is part of an ongoing series on the VMF blog where current Virginia Management Fellows answer questions related to their educational and career experiences prior to starting the fellowship.
Cassidy White is a Virginia Management Fellow currently working at the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).
 Staats, E. “Public Service and the Public Interest,” p. 601
 Perry, J.L., Wise, L.R., The Motivational Bases of Public Service, Public Administration Review, Vol. 50, No. 3 (May – Jun., 1990), pp. 367-373