Like a remake of a movie you never really wanted to watch in the first place, this week is once again Student Government campaign season. And while you mentally change the route you take to class to avoid Ped Walkway, allow me to talk a little bit about an organization that you don’t hear a lot of positivity about: the Student Government Association.
I’ve been involved in the Student Government Association since the beginning of my sophomore year. In my time, I’ve been able to make some really exciting changes happen, including creating a maintenance fund for artwork on campus, promoting keeping more buildings open overnight for students to study in during exam week, drafting language to allow for new alcohol policy in the code of conduct, creating many new policies to promote sustainability on campus, and more. Last year, I was named as the Senator of the Year and this year, I served as the Senate Parliamentarian and as the director of the Environment and Sustainability committee.
But even beyond that, the Student Government Association is how I made so many of the friends I do have here at UT. SGA is where I owe the credit for whatever miniscule amount of public speaking skills that I do have and is what helped me discover my love of research and policy. Sure, there have been bad moments, and I have come close to quitting more than a couple of times. But the good moments, where the policy you spent long hours crafting gets approved or when a sophomore student says “I am a member of the Student Senate” with such pride in their voice that your heart melts, make it all worth it.
It is so easy to forget when we talk about Student Government that these positions are volunteer, consuming, and let’s face it, not very popular. In the last four years alone, the Student Government Association has managed to change the flex plan so that it’s more friendly to student budgets, add a loading zone to sorority village, change the Neyland Express bus route on campus, issue a system wide statement opposed to outsourcing, implement a student discount at the VolShop, create a pantry for food insecure members of the Knoxville community, bring people together, develop the skills of hundreds of students, and serve as a home for hundreds more. And all of that isn’t nothing.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a column about SGA if I didn’t talk about the election happening this week, and from the ongoing issues presented by our state legislature to the continued promotion of outsourcing facilities services, to the defunding of our diversity office, to the hire of our first female Chancellor, to the vacancy of multiple senior level administrative positions, to the aftermath of the settlement of the Title IX lawsuit, this particular SGA election is taking place at an interesting time for the University of Tennessee. Even just as a Student Government, our barrier to entry is too high and our presence on campus too low.
I wish I could tell you who to vote for this year, but I am honestly not sure myself. Each of the candidates running will do a fine job in office and each has individual qualities that will serve the student body well.
Of those running for President, Bev is tough and hard-working, Morgan is intelligent and dedicated, Phillip is detail-oriented and focused, and Antonio is passionate and devoted. For Vice President, Kiersten is fierce and no-nonsense, Mickey is charming and intentional, and Emily is tenacious and friendly. No matter what happens in this election, SGA will be left in capable hands.
Now, usually this is the part of the column where I would encourage you to vote, no matter who you vote for. But I’m not going to do that either. If you don’t feel represented by a campaign, then I’d say don’t vote for one. I will suggest, however, that you get involved. Student government helped find me a home on campus, but I know that it isn’t for everybody. If it’s not your thing, that’s fine, but I promise that there is a home for you somewhere at UT, whether it’s in the Center for Leadership and Service, Greek life, multicultural organizations, undergraduate research, the Quidditch Team, the Mindfulness and Meditation club, or something else entirely. You just might have to work a little bit to find it.