One of the three campaigns running in this year’s Student Government Association elections is Forward. Forward is made up of Claire Donelan, running for student body president, Reginald Williams II, running for vice president, Nia Myrthil for student services director and Simon Jolly for executive treasurer.
The members of Forward base their campaign off of a three-pillar policy guidance for their approach to representing the student body: Intention, Progression and Connection.
Donelan explained that Forward was intentional with who they built their campaign with and who is in leadership positions. Their goal is to have people involved from all over different parts of campus and from different backgrounds.
Progression, as explained by Donelan, is making sure that Forward is focusing on important policy goals that benefit the student body and also working on past initiatives, like current president Karmen Jones’ anti-racism efforts.
“When we transition into office, we wanna make sure we aren’t just forgetting about the history that came behind us. Like, right now, I am serving on Karmen’s executive team, and I know that we are doing great things. And it would really be a disservice to the student body if we stopped those initiatives,” Donelan said.
By having previous experience with Jones’ executive team, Donelan wants to extend the efforts they have been working on into the next year, as to not backtrack.
Connection is where Forward wants to bridge the gap between the student body and SGA, making sure there is mutual understanding between the two, as well as promoting inclusivity amongst different communities on campus.
If elected, Forward has some of its own policy initiatives that the team wants to focus on, such as legislation on sustainability and legislation on LGBTQ+ issues.
“Sustainability has been a big thing for our campaign, as well as when it comes to writing legislation, writing about LGBTQ+ housing issues and job opportunities is something that members of our campaign have been fighting for and pushing for and excited about; I think that will come up next year,” Donelan said.
A big goal for the Forward team is to see a push toward the university adopting visible renewable energy on campus.
A unique characteristic about Reggie Williams as the VP candidate is that he has little experience with SGA, only serving on First Year Council during his freshman year. Williams accredits this lack of time in SGA as a benefit, as he was able to experience most of college as a part of the general student body, giving him an advantage in his abilities to bridge the gap between SGA and the student body.
“Being a part of the general student body, I was able to see how people were ill-informed or didn’t take part in SGA because they just didn’t know about it. That is why I am really passionate about changing the FYS curriculum, so all freshman students can learn more about SGA then,” Williams said.
If elected, Williams has plans to be more communicative to the student body about SGA initiatives and plans, so students are more informed about what SGA is working on.
Another area that Williams would like to focus on is addressing the students’ skepticism of the efficacy of SGA. Williams plans on using his leadership skills to follow a more hands-on approach with senators.
“A soon as the senate gets started, I am going to let the senate know how approachable I am; I will drop in one by one with my senators to have one-on-one time, to let me know how I could do better as president of the senate and see everything they are working (on) to make sure they are staying consistent and being progressive,” Williams said.
If elected, a goal of Williams is to stay consistent throughout the year, and as president of the senate, he hopes to work on making the senate’s process of creating legislation consistent throughout the academic year, as well.
Another area concerning the transparency of SGA, aside from the transparency of its legislation initiatives, is the transparency of SGA’s financial expenditures. Talking with executive treasurer candidate Simon Jolly, Jolly has plans to stay on top of communicating this to the student body.
“I think it is really important that SGA is transparent with the about $50,000 that we are spending of student dollars. A few ways I would like to see that enacted is by having the sheet where SGA is tracking how it is spending its money available to students on its website. Also, beyond just having a link on the website, I think it is important that we are using our social media to talk about, ‘Hey, SGA spent $50,000, if you want more details, you can find that information on our website,’“ Jolly said. ”... The students should be able to see where we are spending their money and should be able to have a say in where that money is going.“
With a large portion of Forward’s campaign focused on inclusivity, student services director candidate Nia Myrthil talked about how student events should focus more on serving students and uplifting different voices rather than pushing out events that generalize different students’ identities.
“When it comes to events, a lot of the times they are culturally ignorant, they are all just generalized and generalizations can be very disrespectful. I want to make sure with the events that we have, we are celebrating the culture and individuality,” Myrthil said.
Myrthil mentioned wanting to start an arts committee that will focus on showcasing students’ from different cultural backgrounds and focusing on their art and talents.
“One of the biggest things I wanted to focus on is I wanted to focus on the joys of our minority students on campus, because a lot of the time when we hear anything about minority students, it is usually about the oppression that we face on this campus,” Myrthil said. “A lot of time that can be a little bit too much or traumatizing for students of color, so I want to do events that celebrate our students and let them know they are appreciated here.”
Myrthil wants BIPOC students to be celebrated on campus and to craft their own narratives through student engagement and events on campus.
Evan Sudduth, Forward’s campaign manager, talked about Forward’s approach to campaigning during the pandemic.
“We built our internal executive board out of people that we handpicked because they come from different walks of life ... we are reaching out to people to let them know how to vote and what it’s like to be an SGA campaign,” Sudduth said. “... We are specifically reaching out to individuals who align with our values and who might get on our campaign and have interests in that.”
By reaching out to people of their values, they hope to connect with a larger audience of students that represent their aim to foster inclusivity among all communities on campus.
Forward has been active on social media throughout its campaign and has also held office hours on Zoom, where students can talk to candidates one-on-one.
In addition to the official Forward Instagram page, other Forward candidates have used their social media platforms to promote their campaign. For example, an off-campus senator candidate Stephen Monroe, known for the “silly goose” TikTok, used his internet fame to tell students to vote for Forward in a TikTok; the video received over 375k likes in a day.
The Forward team encouraged students to view all three campaigns’ social media pages to be informed voters. You can view their Instagram page using their handle @forwardutk.
“Even if you haven't voted before, even if you haven't been involved in SGA before, I want to make sure everyone knows that it is very important you take place in this election and vote Forward if you really want to see the campus move forward, not in one area, but in all areas,” Williams said.
Voting begins on Wednesday, April 21 at 8 a.m. and ends on Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m. Submit your votes at votesga.utk.edu.