SGA hosts 2022 student body presidential debate

SGA presidential candidates answer questions during the SGA presidential debate on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022, at the Gatton Student Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Madison Dunham

The UK Student Government Association held its presidential debate on Feb. 22. The three candidates running for student body president are Andrew Laws, Isaac Sutherland and Lydia Deaton.

On ticket one is Sutherland, a sophomore from Huntington, West Virginia, double majoring in political science and community and leadership development.

“The reason I wanted to run is because I think we have a vision that works for a lot of students. We knew that there’s gonna be a slot opening up and we knew there would be good competition, but we wanted to be different,” Sutherland said. “For us, being different wasn’t just gonna be new policies and different ideas. It was going to be this idea of us going on a mission instead of a ticket.”

Sutherland and his running mate Mallory Hudson served on the executive branch together within SGA. He asked her to run with him early in the school year; they began working on their campaign in November. 

He said he believes advocacy for students should begin before, not after, a president takes office.

Sutherland plans to have a meeting Thursday to build a mental health program that can be pushed out to all the student organizations. The student body president is given a position on the Board of Trustees and a vote in decisions related to the school; Sutherland said he sees that vote as an opportunity to bring change.

“Can you just imagine what we can do whenever we have the platform to do incredible things – not only mobilizing SGA, but that Board of Trustees vote? That vote isn’t meaningless, it’s not symbolic. That vote is incredibly impactful,” Sutherland said.

Every Sutherland and Hudson campaign policy comes from the students that they have been able to meet, they said. They want to make the point of bridging the gap with student ideas.

“If you look at our logo, it’s not our names in the middle; it’s ‘Bridge the Gap,’ and that’s because the mission is going to be so much more important,” Sutherland said.

On ticket two is Deaton, a junior from Campbell County, Kentucky, majoring in electrical engineering. Deaton said she decided to run for student body president because the school that she fell in love with was unrecognizable and slowly slipping away last semester. That’s why she wants to reignite UK and make sure it continues to be the place that made people want to be Wildcats.

Deaton saw how COVID affected student life and noticed safety issues such as sexual assaults, carjackings and even dorm break-ins this school year, and she knew action had to be made.

Deaton and her running mate, Landry Woodrum, could be the underdogs of this election. Neither have served on the student senate or have been involved with SGA until now.

“I decided to run because I wanted to make sure that student government was for students and that they really worked on the problems that were affecting students and that were not currently involved with SGA,” Deaton said. “Making sure that the priorities for students that may not know what student government is are being heard and being taken care of.”

Deaton and Woodrum have known each other since middle school and are a part of 4-H, a youth development and mentoring organization.

“We were both involved at the district level, so we got to interact there and really work on our leadership skills,” Deaton said. “Landry served as the Kentucky 4-H president last year, so I know he has great experience in working with people, and he also brings a unique perspective to the ticket because he’s a part of the College of Agriculture.”

Both believe that they have the skills and qualifications to thrive in the SGA office if given the chance.

Although Deaton has never held a position in SGA, she believes that her lack of SGA experience doesn’t disqualify her from representing students and making a change for the better.

Speaking to the audience at the debate, Deaton said, “Just like many of you all here, I am sure that there is something that you decided that you were uniquely qualified to do, and you went after it and you took the initiative to get those leadership roles.”

Deaton is also not intimated by the fact that she’s the only female presidential candidate running.

“I know that I can do the job just as well as any of the other candidates. I know that being a woman is sometimes something that people use to stand behind,” Deaton said. “While I want women to be represented in everything that they do, I don’t want people to vote for me just because I am a woman. I want them to vote for me because they believe in what I’m doing.”

On ticket three is Andrew Laws, a junior from Edgewood, Kentucky, majoring in public policy and economics. He’s served two years in the student government as a senator, currently serving as the chairman of the appropriations and revenue committee. He’s also been involved with numerous committees within his fraternity. He currently serves on Beta Theta Pi’s executive board as vice president of judicial affairs. 

“Ultimately, this is not a campaign against anyone. This is a campaign that is for all of you,” Laws said.

Laws met his running mate Amelia Pace through student government. Their campaign is based upon three primary principles: accessibility and transparency, student belonging and engagement and holistic health and well-being.  

Laws has met with nearly 100 student organizations across campus, and he said that seeing how diverse UK is and hearing people from all over the community has been a rewarding part of his campaign trail. 

Laws is on the pre-law track and was always interested in American presidents growing up, particularly idolizing John F. Kennedy.

“I just think he was a good leader and that he represented a lot of what America really thought at the time,” Laws said. “He fought for a lot of the right things. He’s just always someone I want to try to emulate in any leadership role.”

Laws and Pace said they want to be accessible to students and use their voice to be the advocates that this university needs. 

“Even if we are to lose, we really do want to make sure that we’re still promoting these policies that are to the best interest of students to the administration,” Laws said. “Although UK is a great place, it does have some issues and things can be improved. We want to take what we learned and either in office or out of it, we want to make sure it is being voiced to the administration.”

Voting begins on Monday, Feb. 28, and concludes on Tuesday, March 1. Students can vote through a link connected to their BBNvolved account. There will also be in-person voting booths that students can go to cast their ballot. The location of these booths is to be determined at this time. The presidential debate can be viewed here.