From senior year in high school to now a senior in college, Ky Freeman knew he would be a change maker.
Freeman’s first leadership position on campus was as the president of Black Student Union’s Freshman Action Team in September 2018. From there, he was elected Black Student Union vice president in September 2019 and then president in September 2020.
Freeman was elected as Indiana University Student Government student body president in May 2021 alongside vice presidential candidate Madeline Dederichs on the Elevate ticket.
His IUSG win was not only important to the Black community but also to other underrepresented and marginalized groups on campus. The last Black IU student body president, Michael Coleman, was elected in 2010.
Freeman is the first openly gay man to serve as student body president. He is, and has always been, a remarkable person.
The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
IDS: What attracted you to get into campus politics?
Freeman: I was looking at the necessity of change, and one thing I have always said that what we learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, that we learn through the racial pandemic, is that we needed to reimagine what normal looks like for us as students, and also how we went about our day-to-day lives here at this university.
There were some conditions that were exacerbated by COVID-19 that revealed there was a void in regards to the things that we really should be focusing on as students. Whether that is looking at academic policies, the way mental health is regarded on campus and looking at how we can improve our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, so that it wasn’t just a buzzword that we throw around but to create actionable items that we could commit to.
I think a lot of this came from seeing a need for something, and then utilizing the experience and skills I have from the Black Student Union, to then figure out how to go about coming up with this substance of change.
IDS: Going from BSU president to student body president, how have you been implementing Blackness within your presidency?
Freeman: Oh honey, every single day! The foundation of the Black Student Union is founded on kinship. Now, when you enter into a lot of these political arenas, a lot of the time you see that there are people that are supposed to be there that represent a collective. But that’s not actually what happens. It tends to be an individualistic thing.
So, how do you then create a community in a space that for so long has been individuals representing their ideologies and their views? And that is to figure out ways to develop community. So that is more team-building exercises and kind of seeing all of the members in the student government outside of the light that it is just a policy realm.
What are the other things that you are a part of? Because I think that most of the time, what I challenge them to do, especially what we do in the Black Student Union, is to really dissect their identity. Because when you show up to these spaces, you don’t just show up as a congress member or a director, you show up as your intersection identity.
So we actually dissect those to then see how that affects your experience here. What we don’t want to see happen is someone conflating their identity with the institution. The problem that typically comes with that in these spaces, the challenge that I am up against is when someone conflates their identity with the institution, a fundamental critique of the institution, then becomes a fundamental critique of your identity. But that’s not how it should be because they should be separate.
IDS: What inspires you?
Freeman: I think what consistently pushes me forward is the students, but I would have to say my experience with Black students, because that was my hood. That was who I represented and I went to bat for just in every way, shape, or form.
But now I have the opportunity to bring that radical love that was poured into me from my mentors, my friends and everything that challenged me to consistently keep pushing forward to now challenge others to do that same thing on a more broader scale.
That radical love allows me to then challenge people with different ideological values. Not to say that my way is the right way or theirs is the wrong way but to actually challenge them to consider different views and to disagree respectfully and there still be love there. I think ultimately it’s the love that’s been poured into me and how people have consistently invested in me.
The constructive critiques I’ve gotten over time is something that I love to see and I love to see students find their voice. That is the most beautiful thing ever at this university, and that keeps me going forward.
IDS: How is Ky the president different from Ky, the able-bodied, gay Black man that we see everyday?
Freeman: There is something that some people really don’t understand a lot of the time and it’s that my position is to uplift the needs of the students to the administration, to ensure that their voices are heard and to make sure that we’re making a substance of change.
Now, while I am the vessel of the student voice, at the same time there is when Ky Freeman kicks in and he is no longer the president. So there is this separation that has to be there for the sustainability of my activism — the person and president.
Which again you have to figure out the ways in which to set boundaries too, and I think Ky Freeman is going to be very outspoken about injustice and things of that caliber, and that kind of comes naturally — my type of speech and demeanor. But sometimes when it does come into the conversation of Ky Freeman, the president, he still is very socially conscious and socially aware, but he has to navigate that space a little bit differently, because now I am being hyper focused as opposed to not being under the spotlight.
Ky Freeman, the everyday person, would tell you, “This is what I think about this!”
Ky Freeman, the student body president, will tell you both sides. He’s going to allow you to then form your own viewpoint and allow you to then make your own decision. And that’s kind of the difference that happens with those identities because I don’t want to tell you to pick a side, but I want to make sure you have all of the adequate resources to do research for yourself.
IDS: What progress are you looking to make while being president?
Freeman: The two biggest things that we are really working on, given as we look across campus now and we look at how long lines are for food or the shortages of student workers.
The biggest thing that we are going to be fighting for more than anything is an increase in the student wage. Everyone knows it’s around $10.15 an hour, but right now more than ever, after coming off a pandemic that has disproportionately affected college students because they weren’t prioritized in relief packages or aid in that kind of way, we can actually look at how we treat our student workers here.
A student worker can be doing the same job as a full-time worker, but the full-time worker gets paid more than the student worker. When we look at how they both also live in the same community, when the prices are extremely high to live in Bloomington.
I think now more than ever, after coming off a pandemic, we do need to reevaluate this conversation of what wages look like for students, especially because they’re temporary workers.
The next thing that we’ll really be looking at, too, is campus safety. More specifically, looking at the intersections of mental health and cops.
As we come from 2020, we see that there was also a call to reevaluate how we go about policing in our own communities and also when are the opportunities that we need to call the police or direct this conversation to someone else. We’re going to look through some of those things and figure out how we can finetune those practices.
We’re looking at how we can make sure that we’re not criminalizing mental health issues that we have here and how overall, realistically, look at what police are responding to on campus and should they even be the ones that are responding.
We want to make sure that we are creating this sense of belonging but also still keeping this public safety as a priority here at this university now that we’re back at full capacity.
IDS: If you could give advice to future leaders on campus, what would it be?
Freeman: One thing that I always consistently go back to is as a leader, you never lose. You never do. You either win, or you’re going to learn something at the end of it.
And I challenge them, that when they’re looking at winning and learning, you learn in those opportunities where people say you failed — you actually learned something. You learned that maybe you need to take a better route or maybe you need to reevaluate your position on the matter.
I think that if they look at it with a growth mindset, instead of “there are so many problems,” they can look at it as there are so many opportunities to learn from here at this university.
That is how you will be able, I believe, to really make those active stances and steps up in any type of leadership roles that you have here. And the next thing I would say is figure out what it is you want to do. I’m not talking about your major or anything like that. It’s great to be involved in three or four organizations where you can really give it your 103% all, so that you can look at the structure of the organization financially, how to improve membership and look at all of the things in this organization. Because if you spread yourself out too thin, you’ll never really give anything 100%.
IDS: What is your favorite show to binge watch and favorite song to listen to?
Freeman: I actually just finished my favorite show to binge watch. I just finished watching Supernatural. It was 15 seasons and I’ve been watching it since November 2020. I had to cry on the last episode because I’ve been watching Dean and Sam for so long.
And for my favorite song to listen to, I don’t care if I’m sad or ugly crying, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston always gets me hype!