Tussey and Brown campaign on path to normalcy, COVID-19 equity

SGA candidate Brandon Brown (left) and Parker Tussey (right) pose together for a portrait on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, at the Gatton Student Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Natalie Parks

Update: As of Wednesday, March 3, the Tussey/Brown ticket suspended their campaign.

Friends and now running mates: rising seniors Parker Tussey and Brandon Brown are campaigning for student body president and vice president on a platform dedicated to helping students get back to normal.

Tussey, the presidential candidate, is a Nicholasville native and integrated strategic communication major. Running for vice president is Brown, a broadcast journalism major. He aspires to entertainment journalism and Tussey is thinking about law school.

The pair met through Interfraternity Council, the governing body for 19 of the university’s Greek life organization. Brown serves as IFC’s vice president of diversity and inclusion and Tussey was formerly IFC president before his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi, was suspended for violations of the university’s COVID-19 protocols.

“The actions of few of my organization ended up being the downfall of the total, the totality of the organization, and having bad apples sometimes it hurts, but you can’t let that get to every single apple,” Tussey said.

Tussey said he respects the university’s decision and doesn’t think the ruling is indicative of his ability to serve students, but that his fraternity’s case is an example of UK needing to do more for students who want to hold gatherings.

“Students don’t understand how they can go through the process through event services at UK and have safe events on campus socially distant, having a chapter meeting, having an SGA Senate meeting where everyone is together in a room,” Tussey said.

Tussey and Brown graded UK’s COVID-19 response as a C average. The pair felt that UK lacks compassion for students exposed to COVID-19.

Brown said that in his experience, UK has offloaded students who test positive to their hometown health departments. He said his roommate tested positive off campus and was told by the Health Corps that the Lexington health department would be in charge of his contact tracing and isolation.

Tussey said he witnessed employees at UK testing sites fail to follow sanitation protocols.

“When I see that, that malpractice where people are not washing their hands and they’re employed by UK, that’s kind of concerning for me,” Tussey said.

Brown also said the university has shown a double standard in terms of who they enforce COVID-19 guidelines on.

“What makes, let’s just say Greek life, different than sports? Why are they able to go and sweat on each other and things like that, or go and play football, but you have organizations that are being limited on where they can go and what they can do? Do you care about the virus or do you care about how much money you’re making?” Brown said.

Tussey and Brown were also concerned about limited library hours during COVID-19.

“There’s also non-traditional students that are veterans, or they are coming back here as a middle-aged person getting an education, and those people – how are they supposed to go to the library when they have a nine to five job?” Tussey said.

If elected, the pair would ascend to several committees that were formed because of the pandemic. Tussey first considered a presidential run after his fraternity was suspended and asked Brown to be his vice president.

“I met with him to see what he was working on, just to make sure that it was things that I believed in as well,” Brown said.

“He’s a person who really cares about his school and every community he’s been a part of, he’s been a part of SAB, he’s worked in K Week as a leader for that,” Tussey said of Brown. The cornerstone of their campaign is “build a better normal.”

Their priorities include safe social spaces for students, diversity and partnering with the greater Lexington community.

“Within four words, it’s just like unity, transparency, connection and community,” Brown said.

Tussey’s previous campus leadership includes freshman senator to SGA and various roles in IFC. Brown currently serves as director of campus life for the Student Activities Board and as an office assistant for campus recreation in addition to his role at IFC.

Tussey said the greatest challenge for student government will be maintaining the student experience.

“[Students] are getting put through things they’ve never had to do before and it can be challenging for them. It can be challenging for them physically with COVID, mentally getting the resources they need to have good mental health, and I think the student wellness section is important to everything,” Tussey said. The pair are concerned over how students will fare when the pandemic is over.

“Especially for those who are the uninvolved students in UK, those that aren’t affiliated with a group or an organization or a club, it’s especially harder on them,” Brown said. Brown’s biggest concern for the university is transparent action on social issues.

“The university doesn’t speak on issues before they need to,” Brown said. “They speak on issues because it affects one of two things: university’s money or its image.”

Brown and Tussey want the university to be proactive, not reactive, to real world events and not let the conversation stop when the pressure is turned off.

“There’s a lot of issues that aren’t resolved until people are blowing up the university’s Instagram DMs,” Brown said. “That shouldn’t be the reason why you decide to then speak on something or put out a statement or an email and then never address it again.”

Some of the most divisive topics at UK relate to that topic. The university has faced public pressure to expel two students, Kendall Johnson and Gracyn Courtright, for expressing views other students say violate community guidelines. Brown said UK should be consistent and honest in those scenarios.

“If they decide to expel them, if they decide to let them back on and stay on campus and continue out their education here at the University of Kentucky, let that be known to the student body,” Brown said, instead of just saying it’s under review.

Brown and Tussey believe student government can improve on being accessible and transparent to all students, which they will emulate by having an open-door policy for their office.

“People who end up being president and vice president, all those roles, have been in SGA their whole time at UK,” Brown said. “They kind of forget that there are students that have different needs and different desires and things like that on campus. And I just think that being mindful of that, no matter who ends up winning this election, just be mindful that there are students out there that don’t know what SGA is.”

If they were to be elected, Brown would like to work on sexual assault and prevention.

“I’ve seen it through my friends’ experiences unfortunately who have been victims of sexual assault and things like that on this campus,” Brown said. “The university doesn’t do enough to one speak on it and to educate others and the community about the effects, what happens, how to prevent it.”

Brown suggested having resident advisors give presentations during the first week of school. He said UK should do more than send out an email after an assault is reported so that students are better equipped to look out for their own safety.

Brown also said the university should start requiring an online training like Alcohol EDU for sexual assault. UK does already require all first-year students to complete an online sexual assault prevention course.

Brown’s other priority is creating an unexpected hardships fund where students can get financial relief “no matter what time of year it is, no matter if it’s a global pandemic or a crisis throughout the world or crisis in someone’s own home.”

Tussey suggested creating a safety task force for student orgs to negotiate group gatherings with the university.

“Currently, we are in a moment where being off campus and the university not providing enough resources for students to regulate their social lives is hurting them way more than it’s helping,” Tussey said.

Aside from more avenues for safe social activities, Tussey would like to diversify mental health resources to reflect social injustices and disparities. That starts with listening, Tussey said. According to Tussey and Brown, one of their campaign’s strengths is that their experience lies outside of SGA. Their other leadership roles have led them to engage with students more and better hear their needs. Their campaign is primarily using Instagram to communicate their policies to students and can be found at tussey.brown.2021.