This article was written by TNJN staff writers Kassidy Zartman and Raina White, and TNJN Assistant Arts & Culture Editor Grace Goodacre.
Student Government Association’s First-Year Council forged the friendship between Chad Smith, Kenzie Bastian and Justin Cross, who are running for student body president, vice president and student services director, respectively. The three juniors said they are dedicated to improving the student experience for everyone on campus and hope to implement ideas that build off the past, improve the present and set the precedent for the future.
“When we were thinking of campaign names, we were trying to think of something that embodies action. Not something that, like, you’re kind of thinking about what it could be in the future, or what campus could be, but what we actually want campus to be today,” Smith said.
Smith, Bastian and Cross set out in early January to meet with a wide pool of students to figure out what needs are met currently on campus and where the university falls short.
Cross said from the beginning, the trio wanted to be intentional and to start conversations with students.
By listening to students and learning about their experiences, the campaign used what they had learned to form policies they would like to implement if elected.
“We are rooted in people,” Bastian said. “No matter what room I go into I want people to know they are heard and that their voice matters. We have a group of genuine individuals that want to pursue students.”
By talking with other student organizations, the campaign found that students feel as though Senate can be unwelcoming at times. The trio hopes to combat this negativity and change the culture.
“One of the big things in Senate and one of the big things we talked about changing is, the culture of Senate,” Smith said. “It’s not super welcoming, to be honest. It’s hard to step into the room, especially if you’re outside of it, and come and voice your opinion. And that is huge because, ultimately, that’s one of the single ways students can convey and speak their minds.”
As Smith and Cross debated who they would want running with them as a vice presidential candidate, they found themselves thinking of Bastian. They said if anyone was going to change that atmosphere, it would be her.
“I knew that I could step up and start that conversation and prop up students’ voices for that,” Bastian said. “I think it’s needed. And just to change that culture—it needs to be welcoming. People need to know what SGA is because it makes a big difference on our campus.”
The three plan on using their different personal experiences and talents within SGA to create a better environment on campus.
“Thrive embodies what we want to make our campus do,” Smith said. “Anyone can relate to the idea. When you ask somebody how they’re doing on campus, they’ll sometimes say, ‘I’m thriving.’ Well, that’s great, but we want everyone to be able to do that every single day on our campus.”
In order to make this change, Smith, Bastian and Cross sat down with numerous students from different areas on campus to build their platform. There are an estimated 30 policies that are split into three categories: Growing from the past, prospering in the now and flourishing in the future.
The first pillar is “growing from the past.” This pillar references past policies or issues on campus that were not fully addressed by SGA. Even policies that got passed may not have gotten follow-ups. For example, multicultural greek council, national Panhellenic council community space on campus.
“That was talked about my freshman year on a campaign that I actually ran on, but nothing has been seen yet,” Smith said.
Smith also discussed how the Thrive campaign wants hygiene products at reasonable prices and accessibility for these products to improve on campus.
“That was promised last year during campaign season. It was actually one of the things that drew me to the campaign that I ran on. But, ultimately, we didn’t deliver on it yet, and I think ‘yet’ is the keyword,” Smith said. “Other universities, we’ve seen them bring it up and implement it … We know we are a mega resource university and let’s make that piece of accessibility really available for people.”
The campaign not only wants to deliver on past promises, but they also want to protect the traditions that have continually improved campus in the past, such as working with Smoky’s Pantry.
The second pillar is “prospering in the now.” This pillar encompasses the ways student experiences can be made better in the present. For example, a student support network, partnering with the student counseling center and raising awareness for the resources that the center offers.
“… having a network of students, basically, sitting down, and having conversations about what they are experiencing on campus … I think that when we talk about mental health on campus, that is addressing it, that is normalizing conversation about it, and that’s really huge,” Smith said. “… A lot of people don’t know that the counseling center has more than just one-on-one counseling sessions … They have an online diagnostic module that you can go through … Ultimately, I see SGA as being a huge way of communicating the ability to access those things.”
The third and final pillar is “flourishing in the future.”
“We’re really transparent on who we are and what we want to achieve. So, letting students know we are not going to be able to do everything within one year, but we can set up that foundation for future executive leaders that come in, or leaders in SGA, can come in and set that up,” Bastian said.
While the one-year terms give the trio plenty of opportunities to create change, they still want their peers to know that some policies can take years to fully implement, but that they still care about the future students on campus.
Thrive wants to implement a specific policy, an initiative called “Vol Rideshare”. It is similar to Uber but is free for students. The initiative has been backed up by the Office of Sustainability. The office has already provided SGA with cars and golf carts for the project.
“They saw the Volrides initiative that SGA started this past semester, and they loved it … They wanted to basically lean into it … So, it’s up to us to just figure out the implementation,” Smith said. “That would target communities like the sorority village, Ag campus, off campus, in the back of the Fort where the bus routes don’t really touch very well. Specifically targeting those areas, because I don’t think we do enough to provide them good transportation.”
They would also like to make Election Day a class holiday in order for students to have full ability to vote and to support the diversity and inclusion changes happening on campus.
“The faculty senate posted a vote about incorporating a class … It’s centered on how do we be culturally and, basically, civically engaged and civically inclusive, essentially. I think that’s great, but I think we can’t stop there,” Smith said. “… We have a really big problem with retaining faculty of color and faculty of other marginalized groups on campus. So, how do we actually work towards recruiting and retaining those faculty because, ultimately, that means a lot to students on our campus.”
Smith also explained the need to incorporate diversity and inclusion into curriculum and daily classroom experiences in order to demonstrate the campus’ true values towards diversity.
Finally, Thrive wants to create a historian committee in SGA. Thrive wishes to have a record of past policies in order to improve them, to protect the ones that worked and to remind themselves that policies that did not work, may work with a new perspective.
“… And that accountability component of, you know, two years ago these things were promised, and these things were supported by students, so making sure that we’re keeping those on the radar, that things don’t fall through the cracks. So, making sure that we’re fulfilling promises made to students,” Cross said.
In the end, Thrive wants to make a tangible difference on campus so that students of both today and tomorrow can have a more positive and open experience.
“The things we are advocating for are really separate from the positions,” Cross said. “The positions just give us a greater platform to be able to implement this change…So, I’m not going to turn my back on them. I’m still going to advocate for the things that students have shared that they could’ve benefited from.”
More information about Thrive’s campaign is located on their Facebook Page and Instagram. Voting begins Monday, April 15 at 7 a.m. and concludes on Wednesday, April 17 at 5 p.m. Students can cast their vote on SGA’s website.
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo and Ciera Noe
Featured image courtesy of the thrive.utk campaign’s Facebook page