Nicky Hackenbrack, in her own words, is a "very vanilla person."
And, perhaps, she once was – a pre-med blonde-haired, all-American, and the daughter of an accounting professor. Today? She is one of the driving forces behind UT's most controversial student action committees.
The transformation began with one interest meeting.
Hackenbrack, junior in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology, now serves on the executive board of SEAT, Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, the organization that puts on Sex Week.
A move from Florida to Tennessee during her fourth and fifth grade years, Hackenbrack said, exposed her to the world of sex education perhaps more fully than many of her Bible Belt peers.
"Talking about sex and going to that interest meeting didn't seem like a big deal to me," Hackenbrack said, "but I really did not foresee myself being so involved in it and I've just fallen in love with everything about it."
Describing herself as a nerdy person with dreams of a career as a medical examiner, something reflected by her work at UT's "Body Farm," Hackenbrack said she could never have imagined the activist's route her experiences at UT have taken her down.
"It is really crazy how things change," she said. "I am such a different person and I am stunned by it pretty much everyday."
Hackenbrack said she looks to become further involved with Sex Week by stepping into one of the leadership roles that will be vacated by the graduation of UT students Briana Rader and Jacob Clark, the pair responsible for bringing the first Sex Week to a Southern, public university.
Although she believes there is still much to be done to further sex education in Tennessee, Hackenbrack said she feels Sex Week is making great strides toward that goal.
"I'm pretty appalled by what's happening in Tennessee and what has been happening in Tennessee," Hackenbrack said. "I love feeling like someone's listening, finally."
Travis Wilson, junior in global studies and classics and fellow SEAT member, asserted that the work he and Hackenbrack do with SEAT is indispensable in combating what he sees as a broken system.
"Our state education system is overly geared towards abstinence-only sexual education – which is to say, not education at all," Wilson said by email. "To not provide an environment or platform in which students may come to learn about sex is a communal disservice and, in my personal opinion, criminal."
Hackenbrack also spoke enthusiastically of the goals of her organization, expressing her belief that Sex Week informs students not only about how to take care of themselves, but also how to relate to each other.
"Equality is huge, and you really aren't going to be able to be empathetic with someone if you don't understand where they're coming from," Hackenbrack said. "It's really important to have these discussions and understand the people you're living with in this community and working with and studying with."
Despite her belief in the necessity of student dialogue, Hackenbrack expressed concerns about the multitude of passionate voices of UT's student population. Often, she said, an organization's determined pursuit of its own goals can push another equally important, albeit different, organization into the shadows.
The student leader who Wilson described as "warm-hearted, passionate and overwhelmingly kind," said she enjoys seeing different campus organizations join forces for a common goal, something the sponsorships of Sex Week events is accomplishing.
Wilson wrote glowingly of Hackenbrack's "limitless" contributions to campus and her personal drive to help those around her, but said her ultimate legacy is as a role model to other students seeking to make an impact.
"The power and impact of a single individual should never be underestimated – the worth of any single person is infinite," Wilson wrote, "but it is when we come together with a common purpose that our limitlessness becomes defined and takes a sure, potent shape."