Photo by Chris Curtis / Sidelines Archive
Growing up, Student Government Association Sen. Abbigail Thomson loved going to Middle Tennessee State University basketball games.
“I got to attend countless MTSU athletic events each year,” Thomson said. “My favorite, though, were the women’s basketball games. My little sister and I were fortunate enough to watch Tina Stewart’s last game.”
Stewart, a former Lady Raider basketball player, was killed by her roommate in March of 2011 in a domestic violence dispute. She played in 14 games during her last season.
At one of those games, Thomson and her sister got a basketball signed by the entire team. After Stewart’s death, Thomson presented the signed basketball to Stewart’s parents in honor of the Lady Raider’s legacy.
“When we heard the news of Tina’s death, my sister and I knew where that ball belonged,” Thomson said. “After her parents received it, they were even kind enough to send a thank-you letter.”
This same motivation led Thomson to sponsor the creation of the Tina Stewart Nonviolence Fund in November of this year. The bill was discussed and passed this fall in an SGA meeting, constitutionalizing the $5,000 SGA receives annually to allot to the nonviolence campaigns and the naming of the fund in Stewart’s honor.
The bill passed on Nov. 11 by a wide margin, with 41 senators voting in favor. Only one senator voted against the bill, and one other abstained.
“I really did want a unanimous vote,” Thomson said. “But, I am happy it was overwhelmingly voted yes. I’m sure they had their reasons.”
The new bill allows for student groups and university departments to apply for grants to fund nonviolence and domestic abuse programs after the Campus Nonviolence Committee reviews and approves the applications. The CNC, which Thomson is a member of, is made up of MTSU Title IX coordinators, Debra Sells, the vice president of student affairs and student delegates that represent SGA and the larger student body.
Nonviolence legislation has been making its way through SGA in recent years. In 2016, a bill, sponsored by Sen. Cody Lester, was passed that required SGA members to go through bystander intervention training. That same year, Thomson also sponsored a bill that called for the promotion of nonviolence programs by SGA, which was a precursor to the creation of the Tina Stewart Nonviolence Fund.
“(The bill) was going to let the executive board choose how they wanted to be involved in nonviolence,” Thomson said. “Because this year’s executive board chose to do that by allotting $5,000, it sparked something in my brain that thought that it would be a good way to do the Tina Stewart Fund.”
Though not personally affected by domestic violence, Thomson has been passionate about making students more aware of all the programs and services MTSU provides to combat these issues. She works for the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students on campus with Barbara Scales, the director of the JAC. The center provides education and support for students that deal with domestic violence and abuse.
“Abbigail, with her brilliant self, actually came on as part of a grant for my office,” Scales said. “And, with that grant, we decided to put her on the Nonviolence Committee because she was so influential in making sure that grant was successful from our office.”
Scales said Thomson was the first one to suggest creating the nonviolence fund and naming it in honor of Tina Stewart.
“That’s how it all got started,” Scales said. “Why not do a fund in (Stewart’s) honor and to always keep that memory in mind because people failed to report and failed to step up. So, let’s do a fund to make sure that we educate our students so that it won’t ever happen again.”
Passing the bill required collaboration from faculty advisors such as Danny Kelly. Kelly, the adviser for the members and senators of SGA, attended all of the Senate meetings and helped Thomson out when she had the idea of creating the Tina Stewart Nonviolence Fund.
“It was suggested that since the funding was already there, it would be a very nice gesture to just give the fund a name,” Kelly said.
The 2018 spring semester will be the first year when faculty and student organizations can apply for grants from the Tina Stewart Nonviolence Fund. Kelly is interested to see how many groups end up applying for grants and whether the $5,000 allocated needs to be increased.
“Depending on that, it could potentially impact the funding,” Kelly said. “I think if it would impact it at all, I’d be confident to say that SGA would probably at least address it and make a decision on the need to increase the funding.”
Part of the awareness push for the fund will involve a promotional video that will be played at basketball games. Thomson said the Campus Nonviolence Committee will be meeting with SGA members and student athletes to create this video, which should be ready for presentation by the start of the spring semester.
“This fund has been in the making for several years,” Thomson said. “So, to see it come to fruition makes me very proud.”
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