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Leadership Highlight: University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s SGA President Jordan Brown

Photo Credit: Olivia Hailey @oliviahaileyphotos

In an effort to highlight the people who are leading colleges and universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to University of Tennessee, Knoxville and did an interview with Jordan Brown the 2022-2023 Student Government Association president.

The position of SGA president is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes in being elected by their peers to lead. Brown, who is double majoring in Psychology and Sociology with a minor in Political Science, is from Memphis, TN. She is a proud Spring 2021 initiate of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

We interviewed Jordan Brown, and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2022-2023.

Read the full interview below.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as an SGA president so far?

Since I have been in this role, the most important thing that I have learned is that you may not always see the results of your hard work, but you still must persevere for those that will. I have become comfortable with the uncomfortable fact that I may not see some of the goals that our administration works on come to fruition. For example, my administration has been focused on internally and externally changing the culture around student-led advocacy on our campus. That is not a change that happens overnight or in the course of a single academic year. However, the hard work and dedication that we have now will lay a solid foundation for those who will take up this mantle after me. That is the magic of leadership. We may not see everything that we set out to do get done immediately, but, in the future, someone will build upon the foundation that we have laid and continue to push on due to our work. That is a lesson that I had to learn and believe all leaders must learn for their own mental health. All of the pressure cannot be put on a single person with a finite amount of time. Meaningful change is not linear and takes time, so we must persevere.

Photo Credit: Olivia Hailey @oliviahaileyphotos

What made you decide to attend University of Tennessee, Knoxville for undergrad?

I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, which is about 5 to 6 hours away from Knoxville. I graduated from Memphis Central High School, which is designated as a UT Flagship school because of the number of students from systematically marginalized communities that attend. Every year, the office of Undergraduate Admissions and a student organization, Minority Enhancement for the University of Tennessee (ME4UT) work in conjunction to host overnight visit programs for students from multicultural backgrounds and/or who attend flagship schools like mine. These trips allow students from these communities to visit campus at no charge. I participated in one of these overnight trips during my senior year of high school and knew that UT was where I would be after graduation. When I toured other colleges of UT’s size, I did not experience a college visit that was specifically catered to me as a multicultural student. To me, this experience felt designed to not only be transparent about the obstacles I would face, but also provide information about the resources available for me to overcome these obstacles. Being able to attend this visit set UT apart from my other college options and made me realize that if I wanted a community and a family that would always have my back as I navigated college, then the University of Tennessee was where I needed to be. This trip was so valuable to me that once I started attending the University of Tennessee, I became a member of ME4UT and assist with planning the same trips that led to me choosing UT.

Photo Credit: Olivia Hailey @oliviahaileyphotos

How has University of Tennessee, Knoxville molded you into the person you are today?

When I began my first year at UT, I was quiet and had no idea what leadership meant for me. I was never the student who dreamed of being SGA president and I didn’t consider myself to fit the “mold” of what people thought of when they heard the world leader. However, my time at UT taught me that is okay. Being at UT has molded me into a person that sees the power in quiet confidence and being introverted. I have learned that I do not have to change who I am and how I get things done because of the societal perception of what being a leader looks like. I don’t have to always have the right answers or be the loudest person in the room, but I can stand strong in my strength to know what the others around me need and how I can help them accomplish their goals. I would not be in the position that I am today without learning this lesson.

What specific initiatives have you headed up this year (or are planning) and how do you think they will improve the school and surrounding community?

During election season, our campaign noticed how disconnected our campus community was from Student Government and the election process. We ran on policy pillars aimed at internally and externally building community between all parts of SGA, students, and faculty. This goal translated into our current administration pillars: advocate, inform, and connect. All initiatives that we put on align with our overall goal to either: advocate for student interests, inform students about resources available, or transform connections. One important event we have been working towards is a collaboration with our graduate student counterpart, Graduate Student Senate, on a town hall for undergraduate and graduate students to express concerns and hear from campus leaders. Another initiative we just finished was the restructuring of our yearly retreat, which is designed to connect students from all of our different branches and inform them of SGA. Instead of a lecture-style event, we hosted a competitive, team-building event similar to Disney Channel games. Lastly, based on student advocacy that has been done continuously inside and outside of SGA, we hope to begin a pilot program soon for students to have free access to menstrual products. Overall, these initiatives and many more are centered around our administration’s goal bridging the gap between SGA and the campus community through our programming, aiming to build stronger bonds so students know that we exist for their betterment.

Photo Credit: Olivia Hailey @oliviahaileyphotos

How is your SGA administration/school currently working on attending to the mental health of students?

Currently, our SGA administration is in the planning stages of hosting an intergroup dialogue event centered around the thoughts and experiences of multicultural students regarding mental health and our university’s Counseling Center. For UT, the pandemic shed a light on the gaps that our mental health services have, specifically as it relates to students of color and students who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. This event, in conjunction with various campus departments including Multicultural Student Life, Pride Center, and the Psychology Department, is aimed at taking a community-centered approach to how we talk about mental health on our campus. From this event, we aim to give students not only a space to be heard, but also gather data that will inform the programming and resources that the Counseling Center offers in the future. This is the first of many that we are taking at UT to better attend to the mental health of our students, especially those who need it the most.

What does leadership mean to you?

To me, leadership means taking up the responsibility to venture through the unknown in service of others. At the University of Tennessee, volunteerism is central to our campus culture and we refer to leadership as “bearing the torch.” In college, and in life, there are so many unknowns and to be a leader means bearing the torch and braving this uncertainty to be of service to anyone who needs it. The torch of leadership represents all of the knowledge, skills, lessons, and resources that you gain throughout your life and must be used to guide others as they navigate their own challenges. Being a leader means not just putting others above yourself, but taking responsibility for helping those around you grow, so that they may bear that torch one day themselves. Leadership is not just about what you accomplish in the present; it is about those who came before you to lay the foundation and those who will come after to continue the work that needs to be done.

We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2022/2023?

In today’s digital world, campuses must meet students where they are at. During the pandemic, we saw how instrumental social media was in how students got their information and voiced their opinions. We also saw the burnout that resulted from increased usage of online learning. I believe exercising creative options that grab students’ attention is a great way to not only represent the campus and its mission but also increase accessibility to students. UT does a great job at utilizing social media and advertising that engages students, including interactive social media campaigns. In our SGA, we utilize our website and social media to promote our events in fun videos and interactive campaigns as well, rather than the usual graphics. Utilizing these creative options that are fun and include students is a great way to ensure universities stay connected as society becomes more digital.

Photo Credit: Pug Fuller @pugfuller

Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black students and college culture?

Watch The Yard is important because it exemplifies the true diversity of the Black community and our college culture. There is not one story that truly defines the experiences that every Black student goes through, so having a platform that showcases stories from across the nation is immensely important. Being able to learn from and witness the successes and challenges that happen at other campuses through Watch The Yard is invaluable and serves as a way to better understand and connect with each other.

What do you plan on doing after graduation?

After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school in psychology with the ultimate goal of becoming a psychologist. My research interests are centered around the psychological impact of systemic inequality and social policy on the mental health of people from marginalized populations, aiming to study how individual views can impact social policy and in turn how institutions can further systemic harm. Overall, a lot of work needs to be done to acknowledge and address the mental health risks and stigma that has developed in communities of color at the hands of policy, so I want to devote my career to researching and addressing this problem.

We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Jordan Brown for her work as the SGA president of University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

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