Wichita State University is one of the most diverse universities in Kansas, and in recent years, WSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) has reflected the institution’s status.
The current slate of officers, however, marks a new era for student leadership the the SGA being led by two females of color.
Rija Khan, who is in her second term as student body president, is a senior from Karachi, Pakistan studying Criminal Justice with a minor in Philosophy and Political Science. She launched her re-election campaign, to bring a “Legacy of Change” to WSU’s campus,
with Vice President Kamliah Gumbs ho is an international senior from St. Maarten studying Political Science with minors in Communication and Sociology
“ We are excited to have students back and events returning to campus. Whether it be sporting events, a social event hosted by Student Involvement, or SGA hosting events where we connect with the student body to hear their concerns, we want to make students feel like they’re actually in college again,” said Khan.
President Khan and Vice-President Gumbs were friends before becoming running mates, which made the pair’s transition into the office smoother. After being elected last spring, they hit the ground running. They already have plans in place for an all-day State of the Student Body President event after students return to campus in August.
“It will be a full day of events. Students will have the opportunity to interact with their student leaders and food. You know college kids love free food.” said Gumbs. “They will also get an understanding of the role SGA plays at a grassroots level during Rija’s state of the student body speech later that day.”
When barriers are broken, there is often some opposition, and that has already been the case for these two. When they were sworn in, some of their peers felt their inauguration was an opportunity to express their personal views, by attending the ceremony wearing “White Lives Matter” masks.
While these students were exercising their constitutional right to free speech, the Anti-Defamation League categorizes “White Lives Matter as a “hate slogan” and defines it as a White supremacist phrase originated in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“ Personally, I was puzzled by it at first, and slightly prepared for it. But as leaders in SGA, we have to handle things differently, and because we represent all students, we have to navigate those types of spaces properly and stay neutral,” said Gumbs.
“ Yes, we're the most diverse university in the state of Kansas, but at the end of the day this is a predominantly White institution, and the people we represent are not just one, like-minded folks, they range from left to right, and we have to make sure that every decision we make is made from the lens of what is best for all students,” said Khan.
According to Khan, she and Gumbs will focus on bringing the White and minority communities together, increasing student engagement, addressing food insecurities around campus, and educating students on their rights. Khan adds that SGA is working diligently on creating a Diversity Center on campus.