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IUSG hears testimony about antisemitism allegations; investigation accused of bias

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Following the resignation of five IU Student Government executive members, the IUSG Congressional Oversight and Finance Committee held three public hearings Nov. 28 – Dec. 3 to investigate accusations of antisemitism and the leadership style of the Student Body President Aaliyah Raji and Vice President Marsha Koda.

The Oversight and Finance Committee members — including Committee Chair John Lane, Speaker of Congress Jack Tyndall, Recorder Aidan Chism, Parliamentarian Drew Yeager and representatives Justin Farajollah, Shane Sanders and Elizabeth Conley — subpoenaed and interviewed 11 students. The committee admitted publicly available evidence, such as emails and recordings, some of which were later sealed from the public.

Two IUSG executive cabinet members not on the committee, who spoke with the Indiana Daily Student and asked to remain anonymous due to fears that revealing their identity would influence the outcome of the investigation, expressed concerns that some committee members were biased against the student body president and vice president and were not objective throughout the investigation.

The resignations and responses

The oversight hearings come three weeks after two members of IU Student Government’s executive branch — former IUSG Treasurer Alex Kaswan and former Co-Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Makiah Pickett — resigned from their positions in a letter criticizing Raji and Koda for allegedly failing to address antisemitism on campus.

In a statement responding to the allegations posted to IUSG’s Instagram account Nov. 15, Raji acknowledged the issue of antisemitism on IU’s campus and apologized for the unintended harm her words caused. The same day, U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana sent a letter to IU President Pamela Whitten about the resignations, saying that if IU condones antisemitism on campus, the university could lose access to federal funding.

The IUSG Congressional Steering Committee posted a statement to the IUSG Instagram on Nov. 16 stating the Oversight and Finance Committee was blindsided by the resignations and would launch an investigation into the allegations.

The next day, Raji and Koda recognized their failure to address the rise of antisemitism and promised to protect Jewish students from hate in a letter posted to IUSG’s Instagram.

Before Kaswan and Pickett sent their letter, External Chief of Staff Patrick Lee and Internal Chief of Staff Abby DeArmitt resigned from their positions Nov. 12 and Nov. 10, respectively. In the oversight hearings, Lee and DeArmitt cited having different leadership styles from Raji and Koda as their main reason for resigning.

Congressional Secretary Abigail Garrison also resigned Nov. 13. During the first hearing, she said she did not sign the letter with Pickett and Kaswan due to her own personal reasons; however, her thoughts about IUSG leadership, specifically Raji and Koda, and her reason for resigning are closely aligned with the contents of the letter.

Before the first hearing Nov. 28, Hoosiers United Against Antisemitism posted a letter on Instagram calling for Raji to resign and for cabinet members who are allegedly “complicit in her antisemitism” to be removed. 16 Jewish student leaders from organizations on campus signed the joint statement.

Allegations of antisemitism

Concerns about Raji’s lack of knowledge about the experience of Jewish students began over the summer, when on July 1, IUSG released a statement regarding the United States Supreme Court’s affirmative action decision, which listed all the culture centers on campus with the exception of IU Hillel and the LGBTQ+ Culture Center as resources for students. Raji said upper executive members decided to only include culture centers that were based on race, but she later realized it was an unintentional mistake due to miseducation.

When interviewed during the first hearing Nov. 28, former IUSG Treasurer Alex Kaswan said he was concerned about the exclusion of the two culture centers, and he had to have an uncomfortable conversation with Raji.

“I had to explain to Aaliyah that Judaism was not only a religion but an ethnicity and that not all Jews are white,” Kaswan said at the oversight hearing.

Kaswan, who is Jewish, said during the semester he spoke to IUSG leaders about antisemitism on campus, but when he saw that nothing had been planned to address this issue weeks later, he felt his concerns had been completely disregarded. It discouraged him from advocating for himself and other Jewish students, Kaswan said.

Ethan Fine, a Jewish student and president of the Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee, was also subpoenaed for an interview at the first hearing, during which he said the administration failed to reach out to any Jewish student groups — especially after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — but met with other organizations, such as the Muslim Student Association and the Middle Eastern Student Association. He reached out to Raji on Oct. 25 to discuss the issues he had seen surrounding antisemitism on campus, Fine said.

Fine, Raji and Lee were present at the meeting Oct. 25. In his interview, Fine said he viewed Lee’s presence as an “intimidation tactic” by Raji. He mentioned a post Lee had shared on social media, which he described as “Hamas propaganda.”

During his interview at the third hearing, Lee clarified he was only at the meeting to take notes and offer solutions to Fine’s concerns. He also explained he was just sharing information about the war — information which did not come from Hamas — on his personal Instagram story.

Raji said she was glad Fine felt comfortable coming to her to express his concerns at the meeting. She said he gave examples of what was going on in the Jewish community and asked for support.

During the meeting, Lee said he suggested IUSG host an event addressing antisemitism, and Fine was receptive to the idea. When Lee briefly spoke about it to Raji, she said he could pursue the idea, but she would not herself.

In his interview, Fine said his biggest concern was that he had heard students on campus saying that Jewish students were “playing the victim.” This same rhetoric was used by Raji about Abby Rose, a Jewish student and vice president of Chabad, during the Oct. 30 Congress meeting when Rose was sworn in as the Chabad representative in Congress.

In that Oct. 30 meeting, Congress discussed the committee of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s advocacy agenda, which outlined its priorities for the legislative session including reducing antisemitism on campus.

When another representative said the section about antisemitism should also mention Islamophobia, Rose argued it should be added to the agenda but in a different section. Because of the prevalence of antisemitism on campus for many years, she said, it deserved its own section.

Raji then told Pickett that Rose was “playing the victim.” In her testimony, Raji admitted to and apologized for making the hurtful comment.

In a separate incident, former Co-Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Makiah Pickett alleged that in an argument with Raji in the IUSG office, Raji had wrongfully called her Islamophobic when she was only trying to uphold principles of equity and inclusion. This argument stemmed from the incidents of bias and antisemitism referenced in Kaswan and Pickett’s letter.

Raji denied calling Pickett Islamophobic during the hearing.

At the second hearing, President of IU Hillel Rachel Applefield was interviewed, and she shared information about a phone call that she had with Koda over Thanksgiving break that made her uncomfortable.

In this call, Applefield alleges Koda said Pickett was “manipulating” her and Raji and that Pickett joined their election campaign because she was trying to get the “Black vote.”

Koda, Raji and Tinsley respond to allegations

In their opening statement during the third hearing, both Raji and Koda spoke about the intersectionality of their identities as Black, female leaders, which they said fueled criticism against them. Raji was criticized for mentioning this in her Nov. 15 letter too.

“I have been alleged of playing the race card,” Koda said. “And to this I agree: if pulling the race card means expressing my frustrations with the microaggressions I face on a day-to-day basis, if pulling the race card means being called aggressive or falling into other hurtful stereotypes, if pulling the race card means being used for my identity when it benefits specific individuals and organizations in certain areas. So to individuals, I'm playing the race card, but to me, this is how I struggled to exist in my day-to-day environment. I will never understand what your personal experiences are — but please do not invalidate mine.”

For about two weeks during the month of October, Koda said she was medically excused from academics and extracurriculars. She apologized that her absence, as well as her need for education, left the Jewish community feeling unsupported, and she promised to do better.

“The purpose of IUSG is to advocate on your behalf for positive change at Indiana University,” Koda said. “I apologize to the Jewish community, and any community we have let down during your time of need. I promise to rebuild these bridges and work tirelessly to restore the community’s faith in me as vice president and in IUSG as a whole.”

While taking accountability for her shortcomings, Koda said she and other student leaders lacked institutional support and guidance to navigate this unprecedented issue.

“We are student leaders, but we are also students,” Koda said. “I quite frankly have never encountered anything of this magnitude in my life.”

In response, Drew Yeager, an Oversight and Finance Committee member, asked her if she was aware that “the situation has potentially put the university’s federal funding in jeopardy” — referring to Banks’ letter to Whitten — and if she believes that staying in office is the best thing she can do for IU students. He asked the same question to Raji during her interview the same day.

Raji said Banks’ letter had no factual basis. She also said she is committed to education and personal growth to learn from this situation.

“Nobody comes into leadership roles having all of the answers and knowing everything,” Raji said. “But we are in these roles to learn and work alongside others to better ourselves and the community, and that’s what I have been doing.”

Raji said she recognized a flaw in IUSG’s historic tendency to only react to incidents on campus, emphasizing her administration’s aim to shift from a responsive to proactive approach.

At the last hearing, the committee also interviewed Cooper Tinsley, director of Academic Affairs and acting chief of staff. He said his reason for remaining in office was his commitment to the responsibilities of his position and commitment to the student body.

Following the resignation of the treasurer, IUSG was fiscally frozen until acting treasurer Neha Tokala, a member of the Board of Finance, was appointed. Tinsley said he took on the role of acting chief of staff to ensure advocacy directors could still continue their work.

Tinsley also said he had felt that the actions alleged against the student body president and the vice president were not deliberate and came from a place of ignorance and a lack of education.

“They have done their best,” Tinsley said. “I don’t believe that you can expect any student leader to respond perfectly and be able to proactively act on all plausible identities on campus, because you’re right, we do have a rich community at IU.”

Committee member Shane Sanders asked Tinsley if Raji had offered him the position of acting chief of staff based on his Jewish identity to make up for her failure to give a voice to Jewish students.

Tinsley said he was given the role based on merits, and he clarified Raji had not failed to represent Jewish students.

Later, in response to claims that Raji had called this situation a “personal vendetta” from Pickett, Tinsley responded both Raji and Pickett said that.

Differences in leadership style

In his interview, Lee echoed Raji’s disappointment with the organization’s reactive tendency, which he said has been the pattern for many years. He said he has been part of IUSG for the past four years, and during this time he has seen little to no effort to address antisemitism on campus.

“This moment offers us a unique opportunity to make a meaningful and structural change, to establish a foundation, in writing, for years to come that IUSG is a leader on campus when it comes to fighting and education against antisemitism,” Lee said.

While IUSG’s lack of proactivity isn’t new, it was leadership differences and underlying conflicts between the student body president and vice president, and the co-chiefs of staff that led Lee to step away from the organization, he said. He cited a discrepancy in their level of commitment to the organization and different perceived expectations of the president and vice president role.

He clarified he had not seen or heard of Kaswan and Pickett’s resignation letter when he resigned himself. DeArmitt was also unaware of the letter when she verbally resigned Nov. 10 due to alleged ineffective leadership, after a month of consideration.

DeArmitt explained that with the events that have come out of the letter, she does not agree with the portrayal of the president. However, she does mention that regardless of Raji’s intent, her words still hurt people.

Additionally, DeArmitt said she felt that overall, her voice and many of her concerns had not been heard during her time as chief of staff.

Concerns of bias in the committee’s investigation

After the first two hearings, an anonymous executive cabinet member said he was concerned some committee members weren’t conducting the investigation objectively and seemed to have made up their mind before the hearings.

He said nine people were originally subpoenaed — two of those were Raji and Koda; the other seven were members of IUSG or students who took issue with Raji and Koda’s leadership style, accused them of antisemitism or both. The interviewees were clearly loaded to one side, he said, even after Tinsley and Applefield were later subpoenaed.

His initial reservation stemmed from Fine’s subpoena. Out of the original subpoenas, Fine was the only one who was not a member of IUSG, and the only way he was publicly involved in the situation was through his posts on X, formerly known as Twitter.

A few committee members were hesitant to subpoena Tinsley and admit evidence he sent them, the cabinet member said, even though Tinsley would be able to provide a unique perspective as a Jewish student working closely with Raji and Koda.

On the other hand, the cabinet member said, the committee quickly voted to subpoena Applefield.

Finally, he claimed some members acted unprofessionally during the hearings — rather than pay attention or ask questions, they would eat snacks, laugh and talk to each other. To him, this indicated a lack of understanding of the ramifications of the investigation and a disregard for the safety of those involved. The public nature of the investigation and criticisms against Raji and Koda were seriously affecting people close to the situation, he said.

Another executive cabinet member said she had concerns about bias since hearing the questions some committee members asked at the first hearing. They alleged questions were leading and intentionally set up to prompt the interviewee to provide a desired answer.

She mentioned one line of questioning, which was asked to each interviewee. The questions included “Are you aware that between 10 and 12% of the student population at IU Bloomington identifies as Jewish? Are you aware of the historic presence of, and particularly in the last three years, of violent antisemitism on campus including vehicular attacks, verbal assaults and vandalism? Do you believe that President Raji and Vice President Koda have truly represented the ‘rich tapestry of identities’ on this campus, including the Jewish students. Do you believe that President Raji and Vice President Koda are capable of striving to create an inclusive and diverse community?"

Committee Chair John Lane said he and the committee have no comments about these claims at this time as they are still in the investigatory process.

What’s next?

The committee met Dec. 5 to deliberate about the testimonies at the three hearings but did not reach any formal decision. They will meet again Dec. 10, Lane said.

In a letter Tinsley wrote to the committee on behalf of Raji and Koda, he requested the investigation's final report be published by Dec. 16.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect that executive members were involved in the decision-making process for the IUSG statement released on July 1. 

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