Last year's low voter turnout for Student Government Association elections (the lowest since 1998) set the stage for 2015 campaigns centered around the topic of SGA's relevance to the student body as a whole.

Connect UT; Seth, Leala, Willie; and Hawkins-Kiefer each addressed this issue with different policy points, from increased sexual assault awareness to better communication among SGA's different committees.

We at The Daily Beacon have reported extensively on what SGA has accomplished under the leadership of Kelsey Keny, Connor Dugosh and Katelyn Hadder, and we attribute much of their success to their ability to convey relevant student interests to university administrators. We seek to endorse the candidates we feel will continue this legacy of advocating clear policy points with the highest potential for implementation and diplomatic and smart relationships with administration and students.

In light of our research and Monday night's debate, we at The Daily Beacon feel that Seth Watkins (president), Madison Kahl (vice president) and Mariah Beane (student services director) are best suited to implement innovative and relevant policies through SGA in the coming year.

Kahl and Beane, both candidates from Connect UT, bring experience and strong policy points to SGA, as well as a wealth of senators (more than any other campaign). At the debate, both spoke articulately and passionately about improving the Freshman Council and making SGA accessible and transparent to the student body. Kahl, who currently serves as SGA treasurer, has been involved on campus as an orientation leader and a director on Panhellenic Council — experience that makes her an asset for next year.

Seth Watkins gives off a strong impression of diplomatic and pragmatic tendencies, qualities that would serve him well as he works with UT administrators. At the debate, he easily fielded policy questions from Freeman and Hawkins while discussing big issues relevant to campus, like safety and popping “the bubble that is SGA” by sending frequent updates to students.

Will Freeman and Grayson Hawkins, the other two presidential candidates, suffer from polarities. Based on his comments at the debate, Freeman appears to be most concerned with the inner workings of SGA, making him seem inaccessible and not tuned in to the concerns of the student body, like campus safety and assault.

Hawkins, on the other hand, has been a prominent independent candidate — and a refreshing opposition voice to this year's campaigns, which had weaker policy ideas. But at the end of the day, he is not diplomatic enough to deal with administration and collaborate to get things done. His ideas, like ending the university's partnership with Aramark, simply aren't feasible for SGA and should not be priorities.

The most important things we need from these candidates are communication skills and a willingness to work with administration while also advocating for students. Administrators will turn to these students when they want input on campus issues, and strong yet reasonable voices will have the greatest impact.

Watkins, Kahl and Bean have the ability to be effective liaisons between administration, student government and students. They appear to understand the importance of a positive relationship with people who make decisions on this campus while valuing student perspectives that should always be acknowledged.

But we urge Watkins, if he is selected, to listen to Grayson Hawkins and others like him — people who care about campus and have big ideas for its improvement. Hawkins challenged his opponents and made Monday's debate interesting and productive, and people like him should be involved with SGA at some level in order to make it less of an insulated community.

Ultimately, it's up to students to engage with SGA and vote in this week's election. Watkins, Kahl and Beane have pledged to listen to student concerns — now students have to voice them.

The views expressed in The Daily Beacon's editorials reflect the majority opinion among the Beacon's editorial board and may be supposed to represent the opinion of The Daily Beacon at the time of publication. They are not necessarily representative of any individual member. Please send letters to the editor to Claire Dodson at pdodson@vols.utk.edu.

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