The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

White ‘90 discusses his activist tendencies and many careers

The credentials of David White ’90 are intimidating—National Executive Director of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), a Rhodes Scholar and a graduate of Stanford Law School. He’s also a member of the Board of Directors of Volunteers of America in Los Angeles and is the chair of Grinnell College’s Board of Trustees. A search for “David White SAG” on the Internet even leads to pictures of White with Halle Berry and other stars from popular TV shows. It also leads to a curiously high number of pictures of actress Betty White, but that’s beside the point.

Rewind to 1990, the year that White graduated from Grinnell College. While still in college, White already demonstrated the vigor of an activist. In opposition to the stereotypes of the American jock, White was a football player who was also involved in the committee that established the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) on the Grinnell Campus for LGBTQ issues. Moreover, White was the head of Concerned Black Students (CBS) for a time. His involvement was rather significant at the time, a precursor of things to come.

But there are some Grinnell experiences that he just wouldn’t share.

“I don’t think I’ll tell you the craziest thing I did,” White said, laughing.

White’s years at the College were formative.

“I loved my experience as a Grinnell student. The 80s were an interesting time for a progressing student,” White said. “During the Reagan years we faced a number of difficult social changes including … homelessness, urban decay and all the ills [that come with it] … the rise of crack cocaine and gangs with access to guns, AIDS really came on the rise, and [we had] a government focused on cutting the budget of social programs. … I formed my basic principles during my time at Grinnell.”

For White, those core issues involved urban communities, education, youth development and urban development. White served as the executive director of the neighborhood-based non-profit—Youth Opportunities Unlimited Inc. He was the L.A. city commissioner for urban planning.
White’s drive for social justice continues to stay with him today.

“My central premise is simple. I want to enjoy what I do every day,” White said. “I want to contribute something positive to the world around me.”

No matter what work he found himself in, White emphasized the importance of making a contribution.

“It is a mistake to think that you can make a contribution by only being directly involved,” White said. “You can make a contribution in almost any capacity. Always enjoy what you are doing. … That balance allows concerned citizens to have a long career of activism.”

As the National Executive Director of SAG, White sets the strategic focus and ensures that all the senior executives understand the vision of the organization. White explained the role of the guild in protecting the working conditions, rights and living of actors, and underlined its importance to the more obscure actors.

“In SAG, we represent actors and everything about that job—how much they get paid, how long they’re on set … the working actors, the faces you won’t remember, unions represent[ing] them. … Most actors will never make a lot of money. Twenty percent of our members earn a middle-class living,” White said.

White framed the organization’s objectives with an insight into nudity on the screen.

“Think about nudity,” White said. “That’s a vulnerable act for any actor. When they do it, all the regulations are negotiated by the union. The actor has to have written notice, the right to wear a certain amount of clothing at the audition, the right to have anyone there—like their spouse or friend. There are a lot of rules around that.”

White’s accession to his current position caught him off-guard.

“[The former General Counsel] said, ‘I’m gonna leave SAG. How’d you like to take my job?’ I was scared out of my mind,” White said.
In addition to spending countless hours working for the SAG, White devotes a lot of time to Grinnell.

“I love being a trustee. It allows me to remain involved in setting policy for Grinnell and making sure the Grinnell experience remains financially possible,” White said.

As the Chair, White sets the strategic focus, helping the Board concentrate on key issues and selecting the leaders of each committee.
“We always are focused on supporting the administration on their initiatives regarding students and we are really focused on restoring and maintaining a balanced fiscal policy. … Creating a smooth transition for our new President is most important right now,” White said.

Speaking of the most recent hate crime on campus, White stated that any incident that made students feel less safe or that targeted an individual or group was unacceptable.

“I was proud to see that students rallied to the defense. … Grinnell has to be a safe place for our students,” White said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *