SGA Profile: Banks-Marsh transcends ideology to focus on plausible policies, communication

Beverly Banks and Kiersten Marsh have collaborated to create a campaign that endeavors to change the stigma of SGA at UT.

With an SGA that seems to be out-of-touch at times, Banks and Marsh want to revamp the communication techniques, work on inclusive campus partnerships and promote plausible policies.

Banks, who served as Communications Director for SGA for one semester last year, believes her service on the SGA executive team will help to make appropriate adjustments to the communication strategies of SGA as SGA President.

Her goal is to use different techniques to encourage engagement, like town halls. She also hopes to incorporate more video aspects to target students and harness their interest. Finally, she hopes to reinstall the livestream used at senate meetings last year to keep students informed.

Marsh, who is running for Vice President, added to this issue by calling attention to the fact that students are commonly unaware of SGA’s activities.

“We want people to know that SGA exists and SGA does something. We’re going to put SGA’s name on what we do,” Marsh said.

She highlighted a bill passed last session that lengthened the time that the student union was open during finals week so that students had additional places to study. She believes that students being unaware of SGA actions is damaging for the organization. According to Marsh, if more students knew that SGA could make a difference, more students would step forward with issues.

Banks and Marsh are also interested in strengthening partnerships on campus. Doing this will create larger events that encompass a larger demographic. Bringing more students together, Banks hopes, will begin that culture change she wants to see on campus.

“We want to make sure students on campus in these organizations can partner with SGA to create these big events, whether that be a diversity week or a campus wide mental awareness week. I want to be able to combine our resources. It could be a great thing and more widespread than just one organization,” Banks said.

Marsh spoke to the fact that Banks-Marsh will have more plausible policies, like lowering POD prices and improving bus routes.

“So often you find campaigns trying to promise a comprehensive alcohol policy that’s going to be implemented next year…That’s just not possible. That’s something that we work on for years,” Marsh said. “No SGA president or Vice President should forget that that is something that students want, but what we’re running on is fixing things that students are affected by that we can change in a year.”

Choosing to partner to run for SGA president and vice president was a serious decision that neither candidate took lightly. Banks and Marsh believe that their good work ethic and mutual respect will ensure that they will excel if they are elected.

Though they sometimes differ in political viewpoints, civil conversation and civil discourse is what ensures that they can be efficient. They view their occasional differing opinions as an asset that helps them reach the best possible solution. According to them, SGA should transcend political ideologies to serve students.

“You know, Kiersten [Marsh] and I don’t agree on everything, but what we do is that we have a civil conversation about our points of view and at the end of the day, that’s where the greatest change comes from—that civil discourse. There’s never a time where I’m afraid to tell her something that I don’t like. I think that’s why this works,” Banks said.

 

Beverly Banks, Presidential Candidate:

Though Banks hails from the small town of Wheeling, West Virginia, her Volunteer spirit runs deep. Her father, a Tennessee native that attended UT many moons ago, is the root of her desire to continue the legacy of the Vol.

The political science and journalism double-major is comfortable in front of people. Her involvement in SGA, the College of Communications and various leadership roles has nurtured a sort of comfort and ease in the spotlight.

“I’m a communicator—that’s what I do,” Banks said. “I have the skills in order to make a change and communicate issues between different parties on campus.”

Her ability to communicate is one of the pillars of her campaign. Communication between the various branches of SGA as well as communication between SGA and the students themselves are both issues Banks hopes to tackle during her time as SGA president.

“Students feel no one is communicating to them. They feel left out. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard ‘I’ve been in the dark. I didn’t know that was going on,’” Banks said, identifying her main issue with campus.

According to Banks, SGA exists in a “bubble.” She and Marsh are running on the fact that they will change that stigma.

“We want it to be that bubble is broken and everyone can come in and have a part in whatever we’re doing. By “we’re” I don’t mean SGA, I mean the campus as a whole,” Banks said.

Banks says her decision to run was simple: It was about the people.

“It just shouldn’t be SGA people in SGA, it should be every student that feels welcome to come to Dunford hall or every student that comes to us with an issue.”

During her tenure at UT, Banks has been involved in several organizations. She spent the first two years of her college career in UT Housing. Banks is also an honors student; a producer, anchor and reporter on Torchlight News; a member of the Student Judiciary Board; Leadership Knoxville Scholar; former Emerging Leader and an intern for the City of Knoxville’s Mayor, Madeline Rogero.

During her three years in SGA, she has identified both strengths and weaknesses of the organization. By strengthening communication campus-wide, she hopes to make change.

“I’ve seen things that I love and things that I don’t like. And when I saw the things I didn’t like and that lack of communication we had, I knew that I either had to walk away from it or to fix it. So I chose to stay and fix it because that’s how much I care about it,” Banks said.

 

Kiersten Marsh, Vice Presidential Candidate:

Though the self-proclaimed love of Marsh’s life is UT Mock Trial, the Legislative Branch of SGA holds a special place in her heart. She believes that her ability to compromise is a tool that will help her fulfill her role as VP if elected.

“I love the legislative branch of SGA…There is a lot of potential to help the student body. The legislative branch has so much potential, but it’s just not being used because there is such division,” Marsh said.

Marsh has a rigorous academic life with a major in political science and a double minor, with one in Latin and one in Psychology. Like Banks, she is involved in numerous organizations on campus. She serves on the leader’s council of her sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi as well as serving as a senator to represent sorority village in SGA. The honors student also dedicates a large portion of her time to UT Mock Trial.

If elected, serving as the adviser for the First Year Council and fulfilling her VP role in the senate, Marsh would stress compromise. She believes that being able to work together is the only way to truly help students. Setting aside political beliefs and ideologies is something she believes she and Banks can bring to the table.

“It’s so important that you stress compromise—that you stress being able to work together and that you stress making a positive difference in the lives of students— as opposed to furthering any kind of political agenda,” Marsh said. “The things we do in SGA aren’t supposed to have an agenda. You know, fixing a bus route or lowering prices in the POD isn’t conservative or liberal, it’s just helping students.”

According to Marsh, after running on the 2016 Challenge SGA campaign together, she and Banks knew that they would make a dynamic team.

“Beverly [Banks] in particular just made me love SGA. I saw that passion for the organization and when I heard that Bev [Banks] was running I was on board with her immediately. This opportunity to run presented itself and now we’re here,” Marsh said.

According to Marsh, she is fully prepared to dedicate a year of her life in service to students at the University of Tennessee.

 

The Team

Banks and Marsh aren’t running alone.

They were sure to draw attention to the team of individuals they have running with them on their campaign. They hope students bear in mind that the campaign goes beyond them.

“We can’t do it alone. Without the people that we have on the executive team and our senators and general campaign members, none of this would be possible,” said Banks. “…It’s not just us. Its everyone. We’re just so grateful for them. We tried to get different types of students.”

To find more information about the campaign and team running with Banks-Marsh visit their Facebook page. Voting begins Monday, April 10 at 9 a.m. and continues through Thursday, April 13 at 5 p.m.

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured image by Emily Cullum

 

Feminist Islamic journalist explores the paradox of women in Islam

McKenzie Manning

On the eve of National Women’s Day, Asra Nomani asserted that the Muslim community should challenge the oppressive customs women face due to distorted tenants of the Muslim faith.

The Islamic Feminist Movement leader made a case that the Islamic Feminist Movement is not about being a “bad girl” of Islam, but reclaiming the rights granted at Islam’s birth in the seventh century that women are now deprived of. Muslim women in the 21st century face constrained rights and absence of political leadership.

She believes the Quran, the Muslim holy book, has been distorted by years of translations to take rights away from women. According to Nomani, the life of Haajar, a revered woman in the Islamic faith, is a perfect example.

“There is something that I couldn’t do that Haajar had done. I couldn’t run,” Nomani said. “I had been a runner, wearing tennis shoes and sneakers since I was ten years old. But the little prayer book that I held that told me the rules had said that a woman cannot run. She can walk briskly, but she cannot run because to run would be too tantalizing for the man who may see.”

Nomani, an avid runner throughout her life, was prohibited by law to run. She went on to discuss even more similarity to Haajar, wife of Islamic Prophet Abraham and mother of Ishmael, when she became pregnant.

“I discovered that I was pregnant from this boyfriend I had. We had never gotten married and he had disappeared…,” Nomani said. “What I faced was a new reality in which the government of Pakistan had put in place laws that said that because I didn’t have a ring on my finger, I was a criminal.”

Nomani challenged the orthodoxy inside of her community regarding the pregnancy as a scarlet letter and decided to have the child. He is 14 now.

Nomani called it a paradox of reality in the 21st century that women are criminalized for “moral crimes.” As a Muslim woman who does not cover her hair, she recalled time traveling to Mecca, Saudi Arabia where she was unable to enter the public with her hair showing or the absence of a male escort. She was unable to pray in the same location as men and was “relegated to the shadows.”

This, along with the Obama Administration’s continual move to ignore radical Islam, was Nomani’s reason for voting for President Donald Trump. She received backlash from feminists and Muslims alike for her Nov. 2016 article in the Washington Post defending her decision. Likewise, she revived questions from the audience about how she, as a woman and a Muslim, could vote for President Trump.

To these questions, she continually referred to the growing issue of radical Islam and the importance of respecting opinions of those who differ from you. She recalled voting for Obama for both elections, but standing in protest to his visit of a mosque with divided prayer for men and women.

Drost Kokoye, a Muslim student in the audience, sung praises of Nomani’s lecture but also issued a critique claiming Nomani’s framing of the topic was giving people “ammo” to smear Muslims in a time where the Islamic community already faces backlash.

“…I agreed with all of her grievances of having a side entrances, having no access to leadership, whereas original days of Islam, that was not the case…,” Kokoye said. “But, I think as a Muslim who has had a lot of problems with Islam and the Muslim community, it’s really easy for me to see what are problems with the Muslim community and where the lines and the tenants of Islam actually are. I think she completely blurred that…It’s not doing anybody a justice.”

Nomani shed light on her accusation of the Quran distortions by reading two translations of the same passage in the Quran that seemed to mean very different things about female attire.

Nomani is an advocate for the Muslim Reform Movement, a movement that lays out an “ideological firewall” against Islamism. The declaration calling for peace, human rights and secular government has been posted on mosque doors and circulated among the community garnering mixed reviews.

Megan Landon, Vice President of Programming for the Issues Committee, wanted to invite Nomani because her topic is so relevant in today’s culture.

“We thought she could give us some good insight to things that are going on right now — not to say Muslim women can’t be feminists — but there is a lot of debate around what it means to be a Muslim woman and a feminist. We thought she would provide a good perspective and help start a conversation,” Landon said.

Nomani closed by urging women to advocate for equal prayer space, equal rights in Islam and to become full and equal participants in Islamic society.

“Tap the feminine paradox in your life about what you can be so you can run in full stride,” Naomi said.

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured Image by McKenzie Manning

Black Lives Matter activist urges ‘social consciousness,’ action in divisive times

Bree Newsome urged students to determine their own contribution to society and choose consciousness in the face of difficult issues by drawing from lessons from her own past on Monday, Feb. 27.

“I realized I took my rights for a granted,” the artist-turned-activist, said. “I asked myself what I was doing to assure that I could keep my rights and that those rights would exist for those after me.”

Her consciousness was nudged into existence while standing in the old Slave Mart museum in Charleston, S.C.

On June 27, 2015 Bree Newsome’s consciousness led her to perform a historic feat. After scaling a four-foot tall spiked fence, she hoisted herself up a 30-foot flagpole to unhook the Confederate flag that had flown atop the South Carolina statehouse since 1961 symbolizing a “social order of white supremacy.” With the aid of James Tyson, a white organizer strategically positioned at the base of the pole disguised as a construction worker, she was able to unhook the flag and repel to the ground safely.

“Not now or has it ever been about this particular flag…or any flag, or any symbol. Rather, it is about abolishing hatred and oppression in every form,” Newsome said.

She praised the courage of Tyson as well as the other activists she planned the protest with. According to Newsome, Tyson used his privilege to be an ally, something she urged all audience members to be.

Newsome’s definition of an “ally” means that someone can recognize their privilege and know when to reject it or capitalize on it. Tyson, for example, threw himself between the flagpole and the police threatening to tase Newsome, halfway up the pole, saying that if they electrocuted her, they would electrocute him as well.

“The most important thing to really think about and understand is how much blood has been spilled in this cause for racial equity,” Newsome said, pointing out countless photos and listing names of multi-ethnic individuals who have shown great “moral courage” in history.

Newsome debunked the common misconception that the mass shooting of nine Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church members ignited the controversy. Newsome called it a mistaken notion, insisting that the massacre only reshifted focus back to the issue by thrusting it into the national spotlight. The issue has always been present, it just went unnoticed and ignored until Dylann Roof took the lives of the church-goers.

“It took the blood of nine to awaken the consciousness of a nation,” Newsome said.

Despite the monumental step that South Carolina made to officially remove the flag, Newsome thinks there is still work to be done. Without the practice of freedom, symbols of strength and freedom will be nothing but dead monuments and fabric. She highlighted laws and practices that are systematically disenfranchising the black population. Mass incarceration, gentrification of neighborhoods, police brutality, generational poverty, poor education funding and voter identification laws are all issues at hand.

Newsome identifies her role as a grassroots leader in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as service leadership about “sacrifice for others” and “giving for grace.” Aware that BLM is commonly dubbed a leaderless movement, she called it a “leader-full” movement with a collective responsibility to end discrimination. Newsome urged listeners to not let the purpose of any movement get lost in the process—to not be so focused on the “how” that they lose sight of “why.”

“This is a generation of awakening,” Newsome said. “One that will and already has, in many ways, changed (sic) the world. The only question to ask yourself is ‘what will be my contribution?'”

“It was a blessing to have her even take the time to come and educate us. As an African American woman, to see her and know what she did freely, I guess…to see her sacrifice is amazing. She’s just like me — She went to a collegiate university and took these strides for things she felt important. That’s a beautiful thing,” president of the University of Tennessee National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Kaylyn Harris, said.

Newsome concluded the lecture by reiterating her definition of consciousness. “It means to be aware what a fantastic blessing it is to be alive in this moment, even though sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart. [Consciousness means] to be a human being, to have the power to create and shape a world where there is no hunger and thirst, where there is no violence and oppression, to be children of God, to be as beautifully diverse as every other species yet blessed with an awareness of ourselves as an endlessly imaginative creative force on this earth.”

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured image by McKenzie Manning

Hot topic at Baker Center: Trump’s effect on climate change policy

//McKenzie Manning

Dr. Andrew Light discussed the arduous road to climate change agreements and the anxiety regarding the future of the Paris Agreement under the Trump Administration.

On Friday, Feb. 24, and uncharacteristically-hot 79-degree day in late February, Light answered the burning questions regarding the fate of the Paris Agreement if Trump rejects it.

According to his best estimates, there are five alternative scenarios to the United States’ participation in the Paris Agreement. They range from formal withdraw to a symbolic rejection, both of which would undermine the strength of the agreement.

“The Paris Agreement is only as good as its policies,” Light said. “The U.S. pulling out of the agreement will threaten the integrity of the regime.”

All 197 countries in the international community finalized the Paris Agreement on Oct. 5, 2016 aiming to strengthen the global response to climate change. The good-will signified by embarking on the journey has since been spoiled by the election of a president who rejects the notion of climate change. There is worldwide tension with all eyes turned to Trump himself.

As a professor at George Mason University and a Senior Adviser on Climate Change at the U.S. Department of State, Light has seen his fair share of climate discussions. He predicts that Trump’s options are to formally withdraw, withdraw from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the governing body of the agreement), send it back to the U.S. senate where it would almost certainly fail, announce that the U.S. is not governed by the agreement or to stay in the agreement but revise the specific emission targets.

China and India, other international-heavyweights in pollution, have each remained steady in their vow to honor the agreement. Light believes that a collective international pressure will be the only convincing factor to keep the U.S. in the agreement.

“To keep us in, we have to have an external pressure,” said Light. “This involves the theory in how we created the agreements…you’re going to have to pay some kind of price, at least reputationally, if you pull out.”

The global temperature has warmed one degree Celsius, causing sea level rises, elevated average temperatures and changing weather patterns.

One audience member who declined to share her name cited her strong support for the March for Science and Earth Day to get the attention of those in government while simultaneously questioning the best method to address those who in disbelief of climate change.

“How do we get the attention of those who are going to destroy the planet?” she said.

“We’re talking about cutting-edge nineteenth century science,” said Light, earning a laugh from the audience. “They [scientists] should not hesitate because what they say is perceived as political speech. What they’re doing is in the interest of public safety. Scientists have the responsibility to protect us.”

If the global temperature warms to two degrees, Light insists that the world is in danger of losing massive land masses and territories. Thought the U.S. will survive relatively easily, he says, not every country will be that lucky. The U.S. would be able to adapt because of modified crops and infrastructure like high sea walls.

“It’s not just one factory that is polluting or one sector of the economy that’s polluting, it’s a byproduct of everything that we’re doing—everything that is driving modern society,” Light said.

Nick Baker, junior journalism major at UT, has dedicated many years to his passion for agriculture. He foresees serious changes ahead for the industry.

“I could see there being some legislation put into place that requires equipment companies to turn to more sustainable energy sources which, in turn, would likely shift the prices of the machinery as well as the oil which would obviously effect the cost of the product [agricultural] being produced,” he said.

“He gave a pretty detailed history of legislation…,” Baker said. “Ultimately, global warming is everyone’s responsibility.”

Light concluded the talk calling the March for Science on April 22 a positive movement to make noise about the issue.

Knoxville citizens are planning their own march for science here.

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured image by McKenzie Manning

Rwandan humanitarian reflects on genocide, international inaction

Paul Rusesabagina saved 1,268 refugees from the genocide that decimated the nation during its 1994 civil war by providing shelter in his hotel, Hôtel des Mille Collines.

He is adamant that history is repeating itself with the international community continually failing to address human rights violations properly. Drawing parallels from the massacre he witnessed in Rwanda to the civil wars that have ravaged Syria, the Central African Republic and the Congo, Rusesabagina called the United Nations peacekeeping operation a catastrophic failure.

“The whole world decided to abandon our world to thieves… and gangsters,” Rusesabagina said. “The U.N. army mission was not to keep peace, but to stand and observe and report back to a desk in an office in NYC.”

The assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana in a plane crash on April 6, 1994, triggered the country’s descent into arguably the worst episode of ethnic genocide since World War II. The perpetrator of the attacks remains unknown.

The responsible party is either the Rwandan Patriotic Front (a Tutsi military organization) or Hutu extremists within the Rwandan military itself. The assassination initiated radical military leaders to begin murdering Tutsis and moderate Hutus mere hours after the crash. Ten Belgian peacekeeping officers were among the first to be murdered to illustrate a hefty display of power and discourage further peacekeeping troops.

In approximately 100 days, Rwanda became a war-torn nation that forced Rusesabagina to use his resources as a hotel owner to provide refuge for those in his community. Rather than flee the nation, Rusesabagina listened to his conscience and stayed.

“If I would have fled and people died, I would have never been a free man,” he said. As the product of a mixed couple (Hutu and Tutsi) and the husband of a Tutsi wife, he had a particular stake in the fight.

Hôtel des Mille Collines was attacked by militant forces many times and food was scarce. Refugees survived on limited amounts of sweet potatoes and beans for months. Despite the situation, its refugees survived.

“It was a kind of hell,” Rusesabagina said.

A Congolese refugee who fled her country in 2008 related to much of Rusesabagina’s story. Her reaction to the event was emotional.

“Everything he talked about, I went through it,” Mona Jumanne, now a political science student at UT, said. “It’s nice to hear other people tell their stories because I haven’t come to that point yet. Everything is emotionally bad.”

Jumanne’s biggest emotional agitator is the idea of her own “homelessness” viewed through an international prism. “All of you [Americans] have a home to go to—I don’t. The only memories I have of my home are darkness and death,” she said.

The aftermath of the Rwandan conflict was the worst part for Rusesabagina. It was not until he drove south with his wife and saw the “butchered bodies” that the complete devastation of the situation dawned on him. Militia members had dehumanized Tutsis so that the cleansing the nation resembled an extermination — a ridding of pests — rather than murder.

“People close eyes and ears to avoid concern. The peace keepers did not come to keep peace. They came to observe…” said Rusesabagina, reiterating the fact that international help was lacking.

In March 2013, nearly 20 years after the Rwandan conflict, former U.S. President Bill Clinton told CNBC that America’s inaction was “the biggest regret” of his administration.

Though Rusesabagina’s story is unique, he encouraged the audience to heed his advice on the best weapon people have: words. Though he had multiple opportunities to react with violence or firepower, he reasoned with the military members when his life was threatened.

When he had a gun to his head and when the militia was attempting to scale the fence to enter the hotel, his defense was words.

“Dialogue is important. Sit down face to face. Anything good that will happen will be through words,” he said.

The Hutu-Tutsi war concluded with the Tutsis reduced to 25 percent of their original population in Rwanda. In the span of three months, the Hutu-controlled military extremists murdered approximately 500,000 to one million Tutsi peoples.

“I think it’s really important to realize that people are capable of these things,” Ashley Kipp, senior anthropology major, said. “It is important to keep a dialogue where you can talk about this and realize when history is going to repeat itself.”

Rusesabagina’s final call to the audience was one of benevolence. In his final points, he illustrated his thought that no one is completely evil. He instructed attendees to always search for the “soft spot” in each heart they encounter.

“It doesn’t hurt to do anything good wherever you can…” Rusesabagina said. “Whatever you do, do it well. Never do anything halfway.”

You can find a visual depiction of Rusesabagina’s story in the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda.

 

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Featured image by FordSchool

TEDx to bring “Ideas Worth Spreading” to UT

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tedxsomerville/6967804803/in/photolist-bBHPBz-bBHx7x-boHAoL-bBJjiF-boPqkw-7nBTuf-bZoho3-9pQz8J-97UDHf-bBH3Yk-boHBBC-boPfGy-boPnN9-ea76zR-boNB1h-bBGMic-boJRDh-boPkiu-bBFM5T-boPog9-boLhhE-boPiX5-bBCWrP-bBJa8k-bBFtna-bAYxSS-boGpaq-boPpqh-bBFukT-boHv41-e8sgnP-boN775-boKi6C-r8sGpY-sJyki-fQZAud-boPiK9-boPkxG-boPzH5-6FLsxe-ac55u-bnP2yG-bBH1Kz-boHvEC-bBCtCT-bBJmM6-4zgRGc-bBJyWr-ncZyWQ-bBCqYB

TED, a conference program covering the broad areas of Technology, Entertainment and Design, is coming to the University of Tennessee in a TEDx talk on Saturday, Feb. 11.

Two sessions for the event, a 9:30 a.m. session and a 1:30 p.m. session, will be held in the Clarence Brown Lab Theatre. The TEDxUTK event is an independently organized and then approved under a TED license.

The discussion will cover a variety of topics ranging from sustainable dairy farming to robotics and rehabilitation as they endeavor to disseminate “ideas worth spreading” into the community. Other topics include entrepreneurship, gardening and education, philosophy and medicine, environmentalism, comics and public health, and craft and community.

For more information on the speakers, visit the TEDxUTK website.

Tickets are currently sold out. However, refunds are available for up to 24 hours before the event. Monitor the TEDxUTK website here to see if tickets become available. For those unable to claim tickets, footage of the event will be uploaded to YouTube immediately after the sessions.

Featured image by TEDXSomerville, obtained using CreativeCommons.org

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo