For UB SA President Minahil Khan, culture shaped her as a leader
Khan hopes to use political position to advocate for and inspire women
When Minahil Khan was a little girl growing up in Pakistan, she witnessed a young woman killed in front of her driveway. The victim’s brother shot her and ran over her body with a motorcycle.
Khan blocked out this memory until 2011. That was the year she learned about the death of Aasiya Zubair. Zubair, age 36 at the time, was beheaded by her husband in Orchard Park, New York in 2009.
Khan flashed back to the young woman in her driveway.
“I realized this happens in America and other countries as well,” Khan said.
Khan, the new Student Association president, is using her political position to advocate for women. This past February, she organized Elect Her, a program that encourages women to become more involved in student government in order to eventually increase the amount of women in political offices. Her position as a female student government president may now do the same.
But gender and racial inequality wasn’t brought to Khan’s attention until she came to the United States in 2001.
She moved to Buffalo from Pakistan with her parents and older brother and sister. She quickly noticed the cultural differences between the two countries – even at the age of 7. Khan said upon coming into the United States, she remembers asking her parents why the Customs lady was wearing pants and not a skirt.
Khan, a self-described ambitious and hard-working feminist, said growing up in two different cultures has turned her into the person she is today. Khan’s brother, Ansar Khan, said the family’s move to the United States shaped his sister’s personality.
“She saw the differences between here and Pakistan, especially for women, and she took advantage of it,” Ansar said.
Khan said coming to the United States during the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks was tough, especially coming from a Middle Eastern country. She recalled once in second grade, a boy in her class told her she must be related to Osama bin Laden.
“I came right back with, ‘Well you must be related to Ted Bundy then,” Khan said.
While growing up, Khan became increasingly aware of injustices, especially after growing up in a culture that didn’t necessarily promote women to be high achieving or ambitious in the workforce, she said. It was always perceived that women are the domestic leaders.
Khan wanted to make a change but didn’t take a political stance until she came to college.
She was never involved in student government during her four years at Williamsville North High School. She said she chose to devote her time to clubs such as mock trial and DECA. When Khan, a senior communication and political science major, came to UB as a freshman, she got involved in SA and developed a strong interest in the student government.
SA Vice President Sean Kaczmarek said Khan’s passion is something that stands out.
“I honestly would say Minahil is one of the most passionate and dedicated people I know,” Kaczmarek said. “Everything she does, she throws herself into 100 percent and she does it for the right reasons.”
Ansar said his sister’s tenacity is also something that shapes her personality. When she wants something, whether it’s family related or school, she’s always managed to get it, he said.
Ansar said when Khan entered her sophomore year at UB, she wanted to dorm. Although her parents’ house was only ten minutes away from campus, she received a scholarship and was able to give reasonable arguments in order to convince them to allow her to move.
SA Treasurer Joe Pace also admires Khan’s devotion.
“It’s really rewarding to see someone crusading for what they believe in,” Pace said. “I really respect that about her.”
Pace said his favorite memory of Khan is when they first met. After a concert held by the SA, Pace and Khan were left to clean up in the pouring rain.
“We were super miserable with these bags of overflowing garbage, but she pushed through it and I think that’s indicative of her personality.”
Khan plans to use this endurance to keep SA moving forward.
Although SA has dealt with numerous scandals in the past few years – a treasurer allegedly attempting to put $300,000 of students’ money into a fraudulent company and an SA president resigning amid allegations such as harassment and falsifying timesheets – Khan is optimistic.
“With any organization it comes down to the people who are leading it,” Khan said. “It is important to me to be a representative of the students since the actions taken reflect on the organization, not just my year but the years following.”
Khan said the past scandals show SA wouldn’t be possible without the students and she wants to make students the priority.
SA controls nearly $4 million of student money through the mandatory student activity fee of $104.75 per semester. As president, Khan plays a huge part in overseeing that money and making sure students get the most of out of the more than $200 they give up to SA per year. She said her goal is to make sure they do.
“I want to continue with traditional events as well as enhancing them and improving the organization,” she said. “Ultimately, I want to make a lasting impact.”
If Khan can inspire another young girl facing racial and gender inequality to become her student government’s president, she may do just that.
Marlee Tuskes is the assistant news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org