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The Indiana Daily Student

campus student govt

Three of IU Student Government’s top student leaders are Black women, for the first time ever

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When Aaliyah Raji and Marsha Koda were inaugurated as IU student body president and vice president in April 2023, they became the first Black women to serve in their positions since IU’s first student council was appointed in 1912. Leyla Fern King, who was elected as chief justice of IU student government supreme court in August, also became the first known Black woman to serve as chief justice due to gaps in the records of the IU supreme court. This is the first time in IU’s history that the student body president, vice president and chief justice have been Black women.

Raji said one of the reasons she got involved in IU student government her freshman year was because she had been involved in student government throughout high school and knew it was one club she wanted to continue with in college. In high school, she said, student government mainly dealt with planning events, like homecoming, while college student government is primarily advocacy based, meeting with student groups and being a leader.

“For me, that was also enticing because I was gonna be able to enhance my leadership skills, while also develop meaningful relationships with people in the organization and outside of it, like with administrators,” Raji said.

Since becoming student body president, Raji said she’s been very busy and attends at least one meeting most days.

“Even when there's not meetings, there's like, always something I could be doing,” Raji said. “Whether it's responding to emails, or meet with the people in my cabinet, or brainstorming ideas of events we want to have happen because you're always trying to do something.”

Raji said the IGNITE administration is trying to push collaboration with other student organizations. Raji ran her campaign under the IGNITE campaign. Both her and Koda being in their respective positions, Raji said, brings a lot of exposure to student government and they want to use that exposure for good.

Being the first Black women to serve as IU student body president, Raji said, is something she loves and hates. Raji said she loves being the first, because precedence matters and both her and Koda’s visibility within their roles will let other people know that holding these positions is possible for them one day. Leadership, she said, is often inspired by others.

RelatedIGNITE ticket pushes forward in journey for representation at IU IU Student Body President Aaliyah Raji and Student Body Vice President Marsha Koda from the IGNITE campaign are the first Black women to serve in either of these positions for IU Student Government.

“Say, for example, somebody’s scared and doesn’t want to do this position, but they know that people who look like them, AKA me and Marsha, have done it before, it will only inspire them to do so,” Raji said. “So I think in that way, it's very rewarding and very inspirational.”

Conversely, Raji said, she hates being the first because she feels like she can get criticized more than if she wasn’t the first. Raji said she didn’t want her mistakes to reflect badly on anyone else who fills the position and looks like her.

“And I can't say that it won't, because I know people have biases,” Raji said.

Koda said she got involved in IU student government when Raji asked her to be her Vice President. Before that, Koda had been involved with the Kelley Student Government, which she said is where her love of politics grew. Overall, she said her love of politics and her need for change in IU student government drove her to get involved.

“And not even my love of politics, I have a love for IU as a whole,” Koda said.

Additionally, Koda said, being the liaison between students and the administration in the Kelley school and seeing the impact she made in a short period of time made her want to take it to a higher level.

As the first Black women to serve as vice president, Koda said imposter syndrome is real. She said she’s a huge advocate for mental health and believes everyone should do things for themselves, but in this role, it’s hard to be selfish.

Along with her academic responsibilities and other activities, Koda said she feels a lot of pressure but it’s worth it in the end.

Koda said she gets to make the vice president position what she wants it to be, rather than fitting into a previous role, because she was elected for a reason.

“You haven't seen yourself in this position before? Why do you need to wait? Do it yourself,” Koda said. “Take that leap of faith, take that first step and do what you need to do.”

Leyla Fern King, IU student government supreme court chief justice, said she got involved in student court in middle school as she served as her grade's student justice every single year starting in eight grade and even served as chief justice her senior year of high school. When she saw IU had a student court, King said she knew she wanted to get involved.

RelatedIUSG amendment removes minimum required representation for multicultural seatsTwo new amendments to the IUSG Constitution will eliminate the required minimum number of multicultural seats in IUSG Congress and clarify when appointments are needed to replace vacant congressional seats.

Currently a junior, King joined the IU supreme court in the spring of her freshman year and stayed on as associate justice through her sophomore year. At the end of this summer, King said, the previous chief justice, Larry McDowell III, reached out to her and asked her if she was interested in running for chief justice as she had expressed interest, and he didn’t want to continue in the role.

“We did a little vote among the associate justices, and it was just me running, so I won,” King said.

King said she discovered she was the first Black woman to serve as chief justice from IU student Joa’Quinn Griffin, who was familiar with the IU student congress and was interested in potentially joining the court. King said he told her she was the first Black women to serve as chief justice as McDowell was the first Black man.

“I mean, it makes sense,” King said. “Particularly given that it was the first time that the VP and the SBP were also Black women so it's like, yeah, that adds up.”

Having three of IU’s top student leaders be Black women, King said, is incredible because they’re able to over-represent an under-represented community. King said as Black women, they’re expected to assimilate into white society and navigate Black culture, so they can speak to a different range of demographics than a white student body president or chief justice would be able to.

King said she was taken aback by the fact that her, Koda and Raji were Black women because even if she wasn’t the first Black chief justice, it’s the first time three of the top student leaders are Black women.

“That was amazing to me on its own,” King said. “And so adding that extra level to it- give me a little pep in my step.”

Koda said having three of the top student leaders be Black women is amazing.

Raji said she thinks that having three of the top student leaders as Black women is awesome because there’s never been a time where three Black women have held these powerful leadership positions. Additionally, she said the three are positively representing Black women in a society where they aren’t always represented the best. Raji said she is so lucky to know Koda and King.

Raji said she knows Koda and King’s passions and what drove them to their role in the first place and that she wouldn’t want to work alongside anyone else.

“I'm very excited for what we're doing and what we can do for the organization,” Raji said. “I really think it's great. I think it's gonna bring more backgrounds and more diverse minorities to these positions. And that's only going to make IU better.”

RelatedIUSG announces preliminary results of fall congressional election The IU Student Government announced its 2023-24 fall congressional election results on Oct. 2, 2023.

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