The Student Government Association held its Presidential and Vice Presidential debates on Thursday in the Alumni Memorial Building.
It’s the final SGA event until elections begin on Monday, April 10.
A total of three campaigns — Banks-Marsh, Morgan Mickey Hunter and Unite UT — and one independent presidential candidate Antonio Butler voiced their opinions on matters ranging from diversity to safe zone training during Thursday’s debate.
The Vice Presidential candidates opened the floor.
Vice Presidents establish platform’s agenda
The vice presidential candidates for each respective campaign spent 45 minutes establishing the tone for their respective platforms.
Banks-Marsh candidate Kiersten Marsh used her opening statement to comment that while she has a strong love for SGA, she also sees a divide.
Michael “Mickey” Curtis Jr. of the Morgan Mickey Hunter campaign stressed the importance of a senate that serves a greater purpose, making more happen and establishing an inclusive entity.
Unite UT candidate Emily Dickey emphasized the significance of implementing a more approachable organization that’s on a level playing field with every other organization and student on campus.
Diversity on campus
All three candidates echoed similar sentiments when it came to diversity on campus, believing that the University of Tennessee isn’t always in touch with minority groups and lacks inclusiveness.
“I feel this campus is lacking in the idea of diversity,” Curtis said. “We hear a lot about intellectual diversity …It’s all about actively listening.”
Controversy swept campus last year when the state legislator stripped funding from the Office of Diversity. While each candidate agreed that an office should be in place, Dickey also believed that a backup plan should have been readily available.
“Instead of just waiting for diversity funding to be pulled, SGA should have already had that money ready,” Dickey said.
While SGA can put together legislation in support of diversity on campus, Marsh believed that simply posing legislation wasn’t going to solve the problems.
“It’s not about legislation, it’s about going out and talking to people,” Marsh said. “It’s about finding perspectives, talking and respecting one another.”
Structure and purpose for first-year council
Another issue raised in the debate was the structure of first-year council (FYC), which the candidates believed was not reaching its potential due to poor execution.
Marsh presented her plan to fix the group’s “lack of direction.”
“A way this can be solved is through the formation of committees,” Marsh said.
Curtis stated that FYC suffered from “a lot of confusion,” and proposed that the organization should add more perspectives.
“More perspectives are better than one,” Curtis said. “… we’re going to reach out and find out what went right and what went wrong.”
Curtis also mentioned his campaign’s idea of establishing a month-long orientation so first-year students enter the school year more prepared.
Although Dickey was in agreement that FYC needs to improve, her tone on the group was more positive and commented on the organization’s low return rate.
“It’s an incredible program,” Dickey said. “It gets people excited about campus SGA… it’s not about retaining students. It’s about building leaders on campus.”
Presidential candidates square off
Presidential candidates Beverly Banks (Banks-Marsh), Antonio Butler (Independent), Morgan Hartgrove (Morgan Mickey Hunter) and Phillip Newsom (Unite UT) followed their vice presidential counterparts and debated topics such as safe zone training, guns on campus and sexual assault on campus.
Safe zone training
All four candidates agreed that safe zone training should be expanded and is a crucial component of pushing diversity on campus. However, due to a lack of funding, these programs are not running at optimal speed.
“It’s not at the forefront anymore,” Banks said. “… this is something that matters to our campus.”
Newsom also advocated for the expansion of training programs, while Hartgrove cited a study showing that safe zone training must be continuously implemented, otherwise it loses its affect after six months.
Butler then revealed his plan to make safe zone training programs more prominent in student life.
“I want to make it a first-year studies 101 class,” Butler said. “We need to make sure first-year students know the values that UT stands for.”
Guns on campus
According to Tennessee law TCA 39-17-1309, full-time employees at the University of Tennessee are allowed to carry a concealed handgun as long as they possess a valid permit.
This topic has triggered much debate and has SGA debating on whether or not legislation should be passed that allowed students to conceal carry as well.
While the candidates personally opposed the idea, all of them agreed that they would support whatever the students supported.
“We’re going to be proactive,” Newsom said. “Immediately, we’ll execute flash polls and then extended polls to see what student’s opinion is… if an overwhelming majority of students want to a carry a gun on campus, we will go to Nashville and advocate for that.”
Each candidate expressed the safety concern with passing such legislation, but Banks also mentioned potential educational programs should a law of this caliber pass in the state legislator.
Sexual Assault on campus
According to statistics, nearly one in four female undergraduate students experience some form of sexual assault while at college.
Because it’s such a hot-pressed issue, each candidate supported partnerships with health organizations on campus to help educate the student body, as well as create an “open ear” environment at SGA so victims know they have someone to lean on in such difficult and traumatic times.
“We should partner with the student health center,” Banks said. “We need to make this an issue we talk about on campus… not something to be silent about.”
Hartgrove also proposed adding more councilors, as she knows students who haven’t been to their appointments yet because everything is so backed up.
Links and social media
SGA election information: http://sga.utk.edu/elections/
Featured image by David Bradford
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo