After acquiring the executive board positions following their Forward campaign, UT’s new SGA president, vice president, executive treasurer and student services director are eager to begin the 2021-2022 school year.
The new SGA team has many goals for the year and is looking forward to a new normal after the daunting -- and nearly fully online -- semesters of the 2020-2021 academic year. Although the UT community is still required to wear masks in classrooms, labs and indoor events where attendance is required, the majority of classes will be in person this year.
While these times are continuously unpredictable, the SGA executive team hopes to bring meaningful change and to advocate for the betterment of the university.
Vice President Reggie Williams spoke about his anticipation for the new school year.
“After more than a year of our college experience living more online than on-campus, it’s refreshing to be back on Rocky Top with the opportunity for students to gain a real Volunteer experience once again. As we begin to take on this academic year, we are ready to connect with the student body in personal and meaningful ways that SGA has never done before,” Williams said.
As for their first order of business, SGA President Claire Donelan explained that the UT community’s safety is the utmost priority.
“The first order of business for our administration will be to ensure that our campus community is safe and healthy. It is essential that students get the COVID-19 vaccine,” Donelan said.
“We will be working to communicate to the student body the importance of getting vaccinated and how to get the vaccine on our campus. The vaccine is how we will be able to have a safe return to what we love most about UT: filling up Neyland with all of our closest friends, lining up for free food on Ped Walkway and learning face-to-face with our peers.”
UT’s website on the coronavirus offers information regarding the virus itself, as well as about the vaccine. Donelan encouraged everyone to check out the @utksga Instagram account to see why each member of their team chose to get vaccinated.
However, the team has more plans than just assisting with COVID-19 efforts; they also hope to lessen the divide between SGA and the general student body. Simon Jolly, executive treasurer, discussed their intentions to ensure that students feel represented within SGA.
“While ‘Top 4’ is committed to enacting change in the interest of all students, we are, importantly, joined by a driven Executive Cabinet, a dynamic Student Services branch, a diverse Undergraduate Student Senate and First Year Leadership Council and an engaged general body, in our efforts to move campus forward,” Jolly said.
“It is through each of these groups engaging students and student organizations in consistent and innovative ways that we will be able to truly have our hand on the pulse of student desires and be able to activate coalitions to call for change.”
According to Jolly, they intend on keeping the promises they made during their campaign.
“We will have a very hands-on and ambitious approach to policy in order to deliver on the promises we made to students throughout the campaign. We look forward to developing our longstanding relationships with administrators and cultivating new ones where we need to in order to make change for students,” Jolly said.
As for the change they would like to see during their time in the SGA executive board, their goals are far and wide.
Student Services Director Nia Myrthil detailed the many topics their team intends to address.
“The change that we want to see on UT’s campus this academic year addresses a wide range of issues, from sustainability goals, to supporting minority students, all the way to academic policies that need to be updated,” Myrthil said.
Myrthil also added that they are seeking to enact change through advocacy, accountability and transparency, again touching on breaking down the barrier between the general student body and SGA.
“Student voices, both in and outside of SGA, will guide our work throughout the year. The General Body branch of SGA will be integral to connecting traditionally uninvolved students to the expansive work SGA does each semester,” Myrthil said. “We know the needs of students are constantly changing; we invite feedback, concerns and comments. Our doors in Student Union suite 174 are always open.”
Meanwhile, the overall vision of the SGA executive board is to advance student power. Their team hopes to do their best to listen to student voices and create a dialogue with administration regarding student concerns, and to be “thoughtful and thorough” in the proposals they choose to advance.
They ask the administration, in return, to actively listen to these student concerns. They hope to find a middle ground in order to enact the change students seek.
In a closing statement, they once more referenced their desire for accountability.
“There have been times in the past where student voices have been ignored, and our team is committed to holding ourselves and administration accountable to meet student demands.”