On Saturday, Feb. 2, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s Student Government Association hosted the first student-led statewide higher education conference.
UTC’s SGA president JJ Lewis developed the idea over the summer, and began planning in early November.
SGA’s goal behind the project was to connect all of the Tennessee campuses statewide and to support their campuses’ students, Lewis said.
“Our student populations may be different, but at the same time our students face the same issues day to day,” Lewis said. “So how can we connect those campuses and how can we come up with a solution to these problems that students face on every campus, and become a better state? Really that was my whole idea behind the project.”
The Roundtable event hosted several public and private Tennessee institutions, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Maryville College, Tennessee State University, Bethel University, Carson-Newman University, The University of the South, and East Tennessee State University.
Speakers at the event included UTC director of civic engagement David Steele, UTC vice chancellor of enrollment management and student success Dr. Yancy Freeman, and former student representative of the UT system board of trustees Rachel Smith.
Like Lewis, Smith said that the roundtable event was significant in creating relationships between the Tennessee campuses present.
“We’re hoping to build a relationship with these schools so that we can partner with them because we’re trying to harness legislative power and make a stronger voice,” Smith said. “Because obviously when we come together, we will have a stronger voice.”
Smith’s speech featured a range of relevant issues such as Campus Carry, alcohol on campus, inclement weather policies, and the importance of speaking to members of Tennessee legislature.
“You all know that most of our rules and regulation are set mostly by the Tennessee Legislature,” Smith said. “So I just think that it’s really important for us as college students and student leaders to familiarize ourselves with leaders that are making these policies.”
Following Smith’s speech was a short address and question and answer session with Tennessee senator and UTC alumnus Todd Gardenhire.
Later in the evening, all of the SGA members divided into groups for a breakout session, discussing topics such as diversity on campus, student safety, and general well-being, Lewis said.
The SGA roundtable event is expected to occur yearly in the spring, Lewis said.
Though he is unsure of where the event will be held each year, Lewis said that he would like for the campuses to reconvene each year at UTC.
“I want it to be held at UTC every year because it puts that national attention spotlight on UTC, and I feel like we need national spotlight for people to see us and say ‘UTC is doing this with the student government association, I may wanna join,’” Lewis said.