It seems that 2020 has been filled with experiences none of us ever expected, nor wanted to live through. This obviously includes a pandemic, political turbulence and a switch to online classes for the entire nation. For those involved in the Student Government Association, Spring 2020 also came with a tradition ruined. Election season, with all of its ups and downs, was unavoidably moved online. Campaigns had to shift to ask themselves, “How do we connect students with the resources they need? How do we bring students together in a traumatizing time? How do we communicate with students who are now scattered throughout the country?”
I can’t speak for every campaign, but I can tell you that these questions immediately came to the forefront of the Change campaign.
As Change’s campaign manager, I saw this team quickly, and without hesitation, let go of the plans for campaign season that we had worked on for months. The Change campaign leaped head-first into endless meetings and discussions surrounding what we could do best to support students in this time.
Our campaign and executive team was created with the notion that diversity, inclusion and broad skill sets reap rewards for everyone we seek to serve. Everyone on this team, with their range of experience in serving students, came together to talk about what students would need most. The first solution to address the pandemic: create an immediate resource list, including food banks, UT information and local aid organizations.
Secondly, we wanted to provide folks with an opportunity to support students if they had the means to do so. We created a Redbubble fundraiser store with various Tennessee and UTK related designs. All proceeds made from the store go to UTK’s COVID-19 Student Relief Fund. In wake of the tornadoes, we also created our Chattanooga and Nashville designs, which are being directed to relief funds for their respective locations.
In terms of what Change will bring to the University, there is so much to be said about the intentionality and dedication to students by this campaign. A core value of our campaign is ensuring every voice is heard before decisions are made. Our mission reads: “Making SGA accessible through intentional restructuring of the organization, valuing and amplifying student voices by inviting everyone to the table, and creating an SGA that is reflective of all students on Rocky Top.” We developed this mission by inviting as many people with different backgrounds and varying levels of involvement in SGA to our campaign.
In the sessions where we developed policy, we ensured we had people with experience engaging with the countless critical facets of our community present. This campaign’s values of inclusivity and community goes beyond pretty words on a page, Change is about putting students first. When we go beyond giving students seats at the table, and instead bring the table to the students, everyone at the University of Tennessee benefits.
We designed three pillars of policy: Compassion, Collaboration, and Community. Within these pillars we have created actionable policies such as Wet Weekends for Fraternity Park and aim to start a program where students can volunteer to pay off their parking tickets. We also want to create a new addition to SGA, called the General Body Branch, which would give students a space to get to know their peers and be able to join at any time. We also want to bring Dining Dollars to Neyland and implement so many more policies that I couldn’t possibly list them all here. Our policies were created with ample research and action plans so they can actually be implemented in office.
The teamwork and collaboration across Change’s executive team and all Changemakers on this campaign is reflective of their characters.
Karmen consistently coordinates amazing events as our Diversity Affairs chair within SGA. She is dedicated to ensuring that we amplify students' voices, learning the most about our students and that the work SGA is expected to do is delegated to the person who will get the job done right.
Raj is a devoted senator and Haslam Scholar who isn’t afraid to dream big. From being in several engineering organizations and Leadership Knoxville Scholars, Raj’s passion for this organization and this community will fundamentally change the Undergraduate Student Senate.
Emma Kate is also a Haslam Scholar and Leadership Knoxvillle Scholar who is passionate about her community. She has already been putting in the work for the past year as Assistant SSD, and is going to be the best Student Services Director.
Cody has been an excellent First Year Council Advisor during his time in SGA and is committed to improving the way student funding works through listening to students.
SGA has a reputation of not being accessible or representative to students. The leadership of these people will change the face of this organization.
This team took care in defining our foundational values and making sure that every aspect of our movement followed these values. There have, of course, been missteps and lessons learned. A team dedicated to recognizing when mistakes are made and learning with one another, so that they can work efficiently and best serve students, is a team that will be resilient in the face of crisis. That is our team.
At the end of the day, a vote for Change is just that. This campaign seeks Change in SGA so that all students feel that they matter and belong every day at the University of Tennessee.
We are in unprecedented times, and it is rational to feel that an SGA campaign isn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind. It remains important to ensure your voice is heard, so that in times of crisis your needs are addressed. This Wednesday through Friday, go to votesga.utk.edu and vote for a campaign that ensures that you come first in the decisions that involve you. Vote for the change that you want to see.
Maria Urias is the Campaign Manager for Change. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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