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ISU Welcomes First All-Female, Majority Black Student Executive Board

Jada Turner, President Samiat Solebo, and Chief of Staff Hannah Woody.
Mary Cullen
From left, Illinois State University Student Government Association Vice President Jada Turner, President Samiat Solebo, and Chief of Staff Hannah Woody.

Illinois State University is seeing a spike in female students applying for student government positions. The student body administration say it’s likely a result of the university’s first all-female leadership team.

ISU consistently reports more female students than male, with 57% who identified as female last spring alone. Yet the university only welcomed its first all-female student executive board this fall.

Jada Turner, vice president of ISU’s Student Government Association, said female representation is long overdue, but she said she hopes she and her female colleagues deliver a message to Redbird women.

“A lot of times, women don't always go for those high power positions, especially in the business field. Usually they get in one position, and they stay there, and they don't always feel like they're capable of taking on those big, high power roles that are predominantly men,” Turner said.

Turner said this year’s executive board hopes to spark a conversation to change that line of thinking.

Hannah Woody, this year’s student body chief of staff, said the women received a lot of support leading up to the election last spring—primarily from female peers. Woody said the women were mostly excited to see an all-female ticket pursuing a traditionally male office.

Woody said having three women at the helm of the student body allows the university to consider national female-focused issues.

“In the news and the media lately, there's been a lot on the topic of women's rights as it pertains to health care, equality in the workplace, etc.,” Woody said. “And I think that is a perspective that we can bring to campus.”

And Woody said advancing women's issues to men requires media literacy.

“Especially in the political climate of the United States, new perspectives are always are always a driving force,” she said. “So I want to take this campus in a direction that it hasn't gone before.”

Turner and Student Body President Samiat Solebo share that passion to broaden the perspective of the student body.

Solebo said she and her colleagues didn’t know they would be the first all-female ticket when they decided to run. She said she hopes to diversify the rest of the student government team and take a step away from appointing white male students.

“It stops a lot of women from trying to do those roles because they think that they may either not maybe get treated the best or be heard as much,” Solebo said.

You can't represent everybody if you're not talking to everybody.

Representing The Underrepresented

Solebo and Turner are also both women of color. Solebo said, in to student government, it’s a game changer.

“Historically, women of color weren't in a lot of positions of power. But now since the tables are changing, and everything is changing, it can definitely happen,” she said. “And that's what I want people to know. That it can happen for you. If it happened for us, it can happen for you also.”

Solebo said leading up to the election, her ticket received a lot of support from underrepresented students for its inclusivity.

“We didn't know that was going to happen at the time, we just thought we wanted to make a huge impact on this campus. We wanted to make it a better place for not only us, but every other student,” she said.

The last five years of SGA administration saw three women on the board, one woman of color, and nine white men.

As a team of three women and two women of color, Solebo said already this year, SGA more accurately represents the student body.

Advancing gender equity is not just a value statement. It's good politics. Solebo and Turner say they go to events hosted by minority populations to better understand the wants and needs of ISU's underrepresented population.

“You can't represent everybody if you're not talking to everybody. That just brings their voice into the conversation,” Solebo said.

Solebo’s vice president, Turner, said every event brings about the same response: students of color ask about the student government process.

“They look at us like, 'Wow, they really did that. That's super crazy.' And it makes them want to get involved and it makes them want to jump in and take the lead,” Turner said.

Turner said when students of color see minority representation on the executive board, it shows their thoughts and opinions matter. And with so few students of color appointed to the board in years past, Turner said it’s about time those students have a fair voice.

Turner says while it is an honor to represent those communities, she, Solebo, and Woody are gaining skills too.

“When we grow up and we get in our actual careers, this is something that we can look back on and be like, ‘Wow, I did this so early on, I can do this and take on other roles as well,’” Turner said.

She said not only does the female administration inspire students, but they also inspire each other.

“I don't think that this is going to be the only year that you'll see an all female ticket. I definitely believe that there will be, in the future, more to come,” she said.

The women say they plan to use their term to increase mental health awareness among students, faculty, and staff. They also say they want to bring back the “It’s Just A Period” campaign, which distributes feminine hygiene products to students.

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