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“College Student Leaders Changed the World” Speaker Series

Leaders lead. They make something better. Each spring the faculty of the Leadership Studies minor select a speaker to keynote the College Students Who Changed the World speaker series. While in college, the selected speakers made a difference in the world we live in today. These speakers inspire students to make positive impactful change today and offer an example for them to follow. University of Tennessee students and our surrounding community members are invited to attend the Spring speaker. Students registered for a Leadership Studies class in the Spring are expected to attend.

Past Speakers Include

Alabama State Student Sit-in/Dixon v. State of Alabama participants (2015)

Fifty-five years ago African American students sat down at lunch counters in college towns across the south, bringing Jim Crow laws to an end. Most were arrested, but 29 Alabama State College students were removed from school for participating in the sit-ins. The subsequent lawsuit led to the landmark legal decision in Dixon vs State of Alabama Board of Education (1961) that extended due process protection to students. Three student activist leaders of the Alabama State College student sit-in movement joined our campus for a week-long series of university-wide events exploring student protest as a vehicle for affecting social change and leadership, hosted by the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Department, Office of Multicultural Student Life, Center for Leadership & Service, and the United Residence Hall Council.*


Avon Rollins, Robert Booker, and The Knoxville Sit-ins (2016)

The Leadership Studies Minor hosted a short film about Knoxville during the Civil Rights Movement, followed by a 2-person panel of student activists from the 1960s Knoxville Sit-ins–Avon Rollins and Robert Booker, student leaders in the 1960s Knoxville Sit-ins for racial justice and each since served as the Executive Director of the Beck Cultural Center. Bob Booker–the student government president at Knoxville College who launched Knoxville’s sit-in Movement–and Avon Rollins, Jr–a high school student who joined the protest, eventually integrated UTK, and worked with SNCC on the Freedom Rides and Freedom Summers—discussed their experiences and lessons learned as student leaders who changed our world. Speakers included Kimberly Hill, a doctoral candidate in the Higher Education Administration program who arranged the speakers. This was Mr. Rollins last public appearance.


Chris Young – First Day in the Trump Administration’s Department of Agriculture (2017)

As a college student Chris served as a trusted advisor to Sonny Purdue on his successful campaign for the governorship in Georgia, served in his administration, worked with CIFAL Atlanta a sub-unit of the United Nation Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). The day Chris began a role in Purdue’s Agriculture Department in spring of 2017, he sat down with the Leadership Studies students to discuss the importance of values in leadership.


Katie Koestner Changes the Campus Date Rape Culture (2018)

Katie Koestner, as an undergraduate college student, changed the narrative around rape at the College of William and Mary, and across higher education. When Katie Koestner was 18 years old, in her 3rd week of college, she was raped by a fellow student after a date. She tried to use the criminal and campus systems to secure justice, only to feel diminished. Katie proceeded with her case with little support from the administration or the people closest to her (Bowes, 2016). Although her attacker was found responsible in his conduct case and removed from campus housing, she still faced a society that did not treat her sexual assault as a crime. The notion that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows and trusts was both new and uncomfortable for the 1990s American society (Gibbs, 1991).

Failed by the system and motivated by frustration, Katie contacted the local paper and published a letter using her real name. Before this incident, victims of rape where not named in the media (Koestner, 2000). Katie engaged with others in the quest to change the shame a survivor of rape felt if people could see that she was a real person (Koestner, 2000). While still a student she joined the Women’s Issues Group, and together they secured a policy overhaul that included many of the stipulations that she would advocate before Congress. Her advocacy introduced and her testimony successfully encouraged the inclusion of the Victim’s Bill of Rights in the Clery Campus Crime Act (Kay & Watson, 1991). She continues to do so in her role as President of Campus Outreach service for the Take back the Night Foundation.