Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Meet ASMSU's first openly non-binary president: Jo Kovach

August 10, 2022
<p>ASMSU President, Jo Kovach, poses for a portrait on July 13, 2022.</p>

ASMSU President, Jo Kovach, poses for a portrait on July 13, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

When it was time to choose between attending Michigan State or the University of Michigan, Associated Students of MSU President Jo Kovach said the decision came down to one deciding factor: a cake. 

The cake was from Kovach’s sister who was already an MSU student at the time. 

“On May 1, when I had to decide between going to U of M and MSU, my sister was like ‘I will get you a cake if you go to MSU,’ and that was it for me,” Kovach said. “I decided on MSU, (the schools) were so even for me to even choose, so I came to MSU.”

Kovach is a first-generation student and MSU’s first openly non-binary student body president. 

The social relations and policy senior got started with the student government as the secretary for ASMSU’s freshman class council. During their sophomore year, Kovach served as a General Assembly representative for James Madison College before becoming the vice president for internal administration last year. 

“I spent all last year fixing our codes, our manuals, our constitution and really just trying to be an advocate for the general assembly,” Kovach said. “I didn't want to be in that position for two years because I feel that a lot of people get burnt out if they stay in those positions, so … I ran for president.”

Kovach was elected student body president in April. 

“That's where I knew I could best serve the general assembly and students,” Kovach said.

What Kovach hopes to accomplish as president

As student body president, Kovach said they want to be a hands-on president who is aware of the happenings in each ASMSU department. 

“I keep saying I want to have my hands in all the cookie jars,” Kovach said. “I want to make sure that I understand what's happening in each department as well as what's happening externally. So that way it's never like someone's asked me like, ‘Hey, what's going on at ASMSU,’ and I don't know.”

This summer, Kovach has been catching up with everything going on in the organization and strategically planning for the upcoming year to ensure each department has achievable short-term and long-term goals.

“It has been nerve-racking and I'm so anxious sometimes that I'm not doing exactly what I need to be, but it's so reassuring having the people that I have behind me,” Kovach said. “It's been such a great experience thus far.”

During their presidency, Kovach said they want to focus on marketing ASMSU’s services.

“We're going to be doing a lot of surveys, a lot of different marketing techniques to try to see what it is that students want from us and what it is that students don't need from us,” Kovach said.

The main goal is to ensure all students know of ASMSU, Kovach said. 

“We're also really focusing on making sure that the General Assembly is being purposeful and reaching out with their constituents so that we never have it where students don't know what ASMSU is, or that students don't know who their resource is when they need it,” Kovach said.

Former ASMSU president Georgia Frost met Kovach when she was the assistant VP for internal administration for ASMSU and Kovach was a freshman. The duo grew into close friends and colleagues, spending the last year as president and VP for internal administration.

“I see a lot of myself in them, which provided, really, an interesting experience for us, just because I felt like I could really understand why she chose to do certain things the way that they did,” Frost said. “I think that was really helpful for us working together.”

Frost said Kovach was a moral compass during her presidency and that she trusted Kovach’s judgment often.

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“Jo’s also a very kind person, so it was awesome being able to trust that not only would I be able to get really good, genuine advice from Jo on a lot of professional matters, but Jo has a very kind touch when you talk to them,” Frost said.

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Frost also said Kovach is an interesting and high-performing president since they are empathetic. 

“I think that makes Jo someone who is really reliable and also someone who can absolutely understand everyone's individual issues at a level that most bosses or figureheads, CEOs, really don't have most of the time,” she said.

What it means to Kovach to be MSU's first openly non-binary student body president

As a non-binary student leader, Kovach said they are looking forward to being an example for other students who may be questioning their gender or gender expression. 

“At least they could see me and all of the other trailblazers behind me that are non-binary in these student leaders spaces and be like, ‘This is someone I look up to,’” Kovach said. “There's several student leaders that are non-binary that are amazing that I can think of, but there's someone in this specific role.”

Kovach said they also love the ability to introduce students to using “they” pronouns and gender as more than the binary.

“That means everything to me that there's someone that they can look at, and be able to be like, ‘Oh, that's an option that I have,’” Kovach said. “To be in all the spaces that I'm in as a non-binary person and be able to, speak up about these things that don't necessarily get spoken about when it is someone who fits into gender binary or someone who is cisgender, I love being able to be that person in those spaces as well.”

Social relations and policy and philosophy senior Carl Austin Miller Grondin is ASMSU’s vice president for internal administration. Grondin met Kovach three years ago and the pair became close friends. 

“Jo perfectly encapsulates the title of student body president not for the political side, not for the dramatic or administrative or bureaucratic side, but solely for the fight of the students,” Grondin said. “I think Jo was made for that portion of student body president.”

Grondin said Kovach is a constant advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially the non-binary community.

“They are the perfect person to help those who may be in a similar boat as them and help educate those who may not understand, or know too well, what it means to be LGBT, what it means to be a first generation and what it means to be femme presenting, or non-binary anything of the sort,” Grondin said. “With them being in this position, it's going to make strides not only for our community but the entire Spartan community.”

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