When Walker Hoover ran for student body president with the Promise campaign as a sophomore in 2020, he knew that no sophomore student had ever been elected to the position. But, these odds did not stop him from trying to be the first.
Although Hoover was not elected president last year, he has spent his time since the 2020 election considering whether or not he wanted to run again. Ultimately, he decided that he had some unfinished business he hoped to complete at UT and decided to run again with the Volunteer Way campaign.
“I just go back to that simple fact that we did make these promises,” Hoover said. “None of these promises that I’ve spoken about in the opening were fulfilled, and that’s why we’re here.”
Alongside Hoover, who is a junior majoring in political science, Isabel Spangler, a junior majoring in marketing, is running for student services director and Lindsay Lankau, a sophomore majoring in political science, is running for vice president.
Under their three pillars; preserve, protect and defend, the Volunteer Way campaign has several policy goals, one of which is bringing the 250-R Program to UTK, Spangler said. The program offers reduced or in-state tuition to students living within 250 miles of a university’s campus regardless of their citizenship status and is in place at other universities, including the University of Memphis.
Spangler said the program would allow students with varying citizenship statuses the opportunity to attend UTK.
“It would bring more inclusivity,” Spangler said. “It would give more students opportunities to go to a really good school and to further their education.”
Another change the Volunteer Way hopes to make on campus is moving UTK toward becoming a wet campus. Nearly all SEC schools allow alcohol on their campuses for students above 21, Hoover explained, and with UTK now allowing alcohol at sporting events, he hopes that a window of opportunity is opening to push for a change to the university’s alcohol policies.
Hoover also hopes to push UTK to adopt organizational amnesty, meaning that organizations would not be held liable for certain criminal activities, like underage drinking, if they are caught engaging in them because they need to seek medical assistance for another student, such as for a student with alcohol poisoning. The university currently has an amnesty policy for individual students, but the measure doesn’t extend to other organizations like fraternities, Hoover said.
Hoover explained that approving organizational amnesty would encourage students to seek help for others who may be in life threatening medical emergencies while illegal activities are occurring.
“There are people who do need help, but there’s those who are afraid to call, unfortunately,” Hoover said. “I mean, we all know that the first thing we should do is get them help, but there is a very real situation when students have to juggle their own position with the university and the health and safety of others.”
As for other campus safety measures, Lankau plans on working to improve safety in campus parking garages, such as adding cameras and signage and ensuring that the cameras are actually being monitored for suspicious activity.
“We really want to work and make it as safe as possible, especially for women in parking garages because that is somewhere that people don’t feel comfortable,” Lankau said.
One policy that the current SGA administration, under president Karmen Jones, has focused on is adjusting the Student Code of Conduct to better address issues of racism and hate. A measure to create a zero tolerance policy for hate speech in the Student Code of Conduct passed in SGA, and students are currently working to pass the measure with the state attorney general’s office.
Spangler said that the Volunteer Way is committed to continuing to improve the Code of Conduct to better address acts of hate on campus.
“I completely agree that there should be a zero hate tolerance. I think that honestly with the Rock, where we have the live stream, that was just a small tiny step in the direction that we need to be going ... I think that we definitely need to have something in our handbook to where not only are we saying that it’s unacceptable, but we are taking the action to make sure that they are correctly punished for what they’re doing because it is time that our university and our campus is safe for every single student,” Spangler said.
She added that if elected, students from the Volunteer Way will spend time talking to organizations with minority students in order to understand how to best address their concerns and best meet their needs on campus.
“It is not my decision to make for an entire community on things to do on this campus,” Spangler said. “It’s not us three together. It’s still not our place as the three of us. I think that there needs to be a lot of conversations that are not being had currently with organizations that have minority students of all different ethnicities and backgrounds to say, ‘okay, if we have to come up with one universal change to the student code of conduct that will benefit every minority student to making them feel safer and to where they feel like they’re getting justice, what would that be?’”
In addition to the above three candidates, more than 50 students are also running for senatorial positions with the Volunteer Way.
Spangler said the campaign worked to recruit candidates from diverse backgrounds and with connections to many different organizations, in order to foster connections across campus.
“We wanted to hear as many voices as possible, to where when we made the decision we had pretty much like an army of as (much) outreach on this campus as possible to help us make those decisions,” Spangler said.
Voting for SGA elections begins on Wednesday, April 21 at 8 a.m. and closes on Friday, April 23 at 5 p.m. Students can vote at votesga.utk.edu.