ETSU team earns ‘Best Delegation’ at 2022 TISL, lays groundwork for ’23
Published 2:55 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023
JOHNSON CITY – The 18 East Tennessee State University students who participated in the 2022 Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) brought home “Best Delegation” honors, but members of the team aren’t resting on this success. Instead, they are gearing up for next fall’s event, with several ETSU students elected to serve in key roles for 2023.
Since 1966, TISL has provided thousands of politically minded college and university students an education about Tennessee state government and a channel to express their opinions on state issues. Hundreds of students from more than 40 two- and four-year institutions participate each November in a competitive four-day event modeled after a session of the Tennessee General Assembly. Meeting in the chambers of the state capitol in Nashville, these students fill legislative, judicial, lobbying and media roles.
Several ETSU students played pivotal roles in the 2022 competition, including Chloe Philpot, who served as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and Levi Jones, who was sergeant-at-arms of the House of Representatives.
ETSU students were elected to serve in key roles in 2023, including Aiden Graybeal, speaker of the House; Jones, speaker pro tempore; Kendall Robertson, secretary of state, Trent White, attorney general; Hailey Story, Supreme Court justice; and Rebekah Allen, communications director.
The number of team members elected to office for 2023 contributed to “Best Delegation” status in 2022 for ETSU’s team, which had strong competition from Tennessee Tech. In addition, several ETSU participants achieved individual honors, including Macy Strader, who was named “Best Reporter”; Kyah Powers, who became the third consecutive ETSU recipient of the Carlisle Award that recognizes 10 outstanding legislators each year; and Leah Loveday, who took the “Best Lobbyist” title.
According to Graybeal, the greatest contributing factors to the ETSU team’s designation as “Best Delegation” were the personal achievement of individual members and the professionalism and unity with which the group approached the competition.
“In being part of a team like this, you’re very much an individual,” he said. “You’re very much on your own to succeed. It’s on you to memorize the rules. It’s on you to write quality legislation. It’s on you to write a good case brief to make a good argument before the court. All those things really take your time and effort, and in this case, it shows. To succeed as a group proves that we succeeded as individuals.”
In the past, ETSU’s TISL delegation was comprised largely of Student Government Association members, as several competing groups from other institutions still are. But today, it operates as a registered student organization. Its membership has students of various political persuasions, including Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, and they foster unity by engaging in civil discourse, sharing and expressing opinions in an appropriate way.
The ETSU TISL team prepares extensively for competition each year, and Graybeal says members are laying the groundwork this spring for the hard work ahead in the fall 2023 semester. Just after Labor Day, the group will practice presenting and debating bills on the House and Senate floors and argue cases. They will try to anticipate all of the questions and arguments that could be brought up in competition. In addition, they will learn or review parliamentary procedure, as well as examine problems they faced in the previous year’s competition and think of ways to overcome them during the upcoming session.
Members of ETSU’s TISL delegation come from a variety of academic disciplines, from political science to theater, from nursing to bluegrass. But the organization gives each of them an outlet for one interest they have in common – politics – and allows them to both put things they learn in the classroom into practice and to go outside the classroom to gain knowledge only available through hands-on, mock legislative and judicial experience.
Graybeal, a sophomore political science major from Johnson City, said he has “always been a weird political kid,” but no outlets for that interest existed in the elementary and high schools he attended.
“Through TISL, I discovered there’s this whole world I was missing out on – all these things I’d always looked at and heard about in which I’m now participating,” he said. “That’s the big draw, especially for those who didn’t have an outlet for that political interest when they were younger, and even for those who did.”
“Finding an organization that allowed me to learn about the workings of our state legislature through hands-on experience drew my interest, and it allowed me to find a field of study that I was passionate about,” said Jones, who is an Honors-in-Discipline in Theater student from Soddy-Daisy. “TISL provides invaluable experience that students of any academic field can use. I have learned about the legislative process, heightened my public speaking and debate skills, made connections with students across the state, and created friendships that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Likewise, Philpot, a senior English major with minors in philosophy and legal studies from Estill Springs, became active in TISL for the experience it provided in state government and the judiciary.
“My position as chief justice helped me build significant connections across Tennessee, and allowed me the chance to have judicial experience in case briefing and appellate court arguments,” said Philpot, whose 2022 court was the first all-female Supreme Court for TISL. “My experience at TISL helped guide what classes I was interested in, such as criminal law or supreme court. It also inspired me to become involved in other aspects of campus. TISL was a motivator for me to become involved in volunteer work in various areas, and I believe that I will continue to be involved in legal and political communities in the areas I reside in.
“TISL was also a huge factor in my law school decision,” she continued. “I plan to attend law school next semester, with a focus in public interest law and policy. Because of my experience in TISL, I feel better prepared to enter law school, and already have an idea of what kind of law I want to practice.”
The fact that TISL competition happens in the state capitol in Nashville drew Phillip Davidson to the organization.
“I thought that was the coolest thing ever, to be able to learn about the state government while being in the very place that it actually happens,” said Phillip Davidson, a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Albemarle County, Virginia, with a minor in bluegrass, old-time and roots music studies, who will serve his third term as ETSU’s senator in 2023. “TISL has definitely helped me improve my communication skills, such as public speaking and writing, as well as my research skills. A lot of research goes into TISL, including researching issues and Tennessee Code Annotated, as well as coming up with meaningful legislation that you would want to be actually introduced to the General Assembly.”
Learn more about TISL at tislonline.org/.