Our History

15 Years of Eco-Activism

Over the years, a number of student environmental groups had come and gone on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Then, in 1993, a student named Mary Anne Peine -- with the help of Michele Case, Steve Hixon, and others -- became a driving force in establishing SPEAK.

Peine founded SPEAK as an activist group to promote sustainable living at UT and in the region. The group is non-hierarchical in social structure and attracts students from all disciplines of study. Dr. Mike McKinney of the geology department has served as SPEAK's faculty advisor from the beginning.


In the fall of 1994, SPEAK organized a peaceful demonstration at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant to draw attention to safety violations and cost overruns. The demonstration attracted over 300 people and recevied national media attention, including coverage by CNN, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and all regional media.

In the October 1996 issue of Mother Jones magazine, UT was listed as one of the top twenty activist campuses in the nation, from 1976-1996. This was due entirely to the work of SPEAK.

Every year since 1993, SPEAK has hosted the annual campus Earth Week festivities. Earth Week has grown each year, and will continue to be an important educational opportunity for the campus community in years to come.

During Earth Week 1995, Greenpeace brought it's solar truck, Cyrus, to campus, where it fueled a solar powered concert (on a rainy day, at that!). In 1997, SPEAK hosted a music festival on the "Greenway."

SPEAK has played, and will continue to play, a role in environmental education for the campus community. The group has hosted speakers from across the U.S. and Canada who have made presentations on a wide variety of environmental issues.

SPEAK has always been a prominent chapter in S.E.A.C. (Student Environmental Action Coalition), the largest student-run environmental organization in the nation.

In the spring of '98, SPEAK spearheaded a recycled paper purchasing referendum passed in the student government elections. The group has also worked with Foundation for Global Sustainability over the years.

Other projects include chip mill protests, protests at the paper mill at Canton, NC, many letter writing campaigns for many issues, participating in the Turkey Creek wetland development protest and the Falls Creek Falls stripmining protest.

Among the most recent actions initiated by SPEAK is UTís Clean Energy Initiative, a referendum that gave students the opportunity to purchase green power at UT and increase energy efficiency in campus buildings, through an increase of student fees. Because of SPEAKís efforts, the University of Tennessee is now a leading purchaser of green power in the Southeast. In response to SPEAK's efforts, the University has also supported energy conservation programs, such as a light-bulb exchange in the dormitories. For the past three years, SPEAK has received the Dean of Students Excellent Student Organization Award for their efforts to make the University of Tennessee and the surrounding area a more environmentally aware community.

Past SPEAK Presidents:

2007-2008 - Reagan Richmond and Hollie Ernest
2006-2007 - Leslie Chinery
2005-2006 - Brian Watson and Leslie Chinery
2004-2005 - Christina Connally
2003-2004 - Rachel Gramig
2002-2003 - Sarah Surak
2001-2002 - Sarah Surak
2000-2001 - Caroline DeVan
1999-2000 - Sara Drake and Chuck Price
1993-1994 - Mary Anne Peine, founder