ASHLAND Courtney Wheeler has three homes: Lexington, where she attends the University of Kentucky; Louisville, where she graduated from Sacred Heart Academy; and Ashland, where she attended Holy Family School and Paul G. Blazer High School until her freshman year.
“Home is Ashland, where I’m rooted,” she said. “I love where I’m from and I love that EKy culture.”
Wheeler is the first student government president at UK who hails from Ashland. At least, she is as far as she knows.
"The outgoing president is from Johnson Central, so we kid each other because our schools were rivals," she said.
There hasn’t been anything funny about her term so far; in fact, it might be the most challenging semester of her life.
"To be honest, the president usually has a summer where they can build their team and understand their role and build relationships. That didn’t happen," she said. “The minute I was elected, the former president and I came together to work on plans."
Elected on March 15, she said she knew students wouldn’t be coming back to campus so they started planning how to keep students safe.
"I went to at least 300 meetings," she said, but she’s not sorry for the experience. "It’s been great. Administrators want to hear what students want and need.
"With all the uncertainty, students feel vulnerable, not just to coronavirus," she continued. "We have twin issues: the coronavirus and inclusion. But safety is first."
Wheeler’s interest in government goes back to high school, but UK’s campus is much larger than her hometown of Ashland, and she was looking for a way to make the campus feel like home as well as a way to be successful. First, she joined a sorority.
"One of the other students was talking about ways to get involved in campus and she talked about student government, so I approached her after that meeting and that led to me being named a freshman senator," she said. "The following March, I ran and was elected undergraduate senator at large."
As a sophomore, she was appropriations chair, and as a junior was chief of staff, leading an 18-person cabinet.
This year, she ran for and was elected president, taking office in March just before the university sent students home because of COVID-19.
"It’s been difficult this year," she said. "The president, vice president and chief of staff usually hang out and get to know each other and work together, but this year, we were in three different cities, but we’re making it work."
Some of the steps encouraged by the student government include a mask mandate and a definition of what a face mask is; making sure professors have shields so students who are hard of hearing can read their lips; eliminating spring break for 2021 to reduce student travel and, ultimately COVID-19 cases; work on testing and tracing; mental health care for those in quarantine or isolation; putting procedures in place for helping students keep up with coursework when they are in quarantine or isolation; educating sororities and fraternities about the virus; and instituting a break day and a study day into the upcoming calendar;
Students are complying with the required mask wearing and daily screenings, showing more students than staff following the guidelines.
“That is a proud day in the student body president’s book when we are complying better than others,” Wheeler told the Kentucky Kernel, UK’s campus newspaper. “Now, I would like to still see that number grow, I’d like to see it at about 100%, but we’re doing it.”
She would like to see students be able to take time off for mental health, too, especially when the pandemic is an added worry.
As for diversity, all members of SGA will go through two anti-racism trainings taught by Dr. Nicole Martin, the director of Inclusive Excellence and Diverse Education.
A mural in Memorial Hall depicting slavery in Kentucky was removed after years of discussion and request from students.
As a business management and business communications major, Wheeler said she hopes to work in the corporate world.
"I love seeing an issue and solving the issue," she said.
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