Students typically join campus organizations for a few reasons: connection, community, a common cause or all of the above. The pandemic pushed students apart, but recent calls for social justice reform nationwide are bringing them back together. Whether by lending a hand or a voice to people who need it or maintaining support for one another, student organizations at Drake University reaped empowerment and strength from a time of collective struggle and tragedy. When some may expect them to wither, student leaders display tenacity and resilience. Their actions say in unison: Don’t underestimate us.
Here are 10 Drake student organizations that took back what they lost this semester.
1. UNITY Roundtable
Unity. A word we hear frequently, usually during difficult times. But what does it really mean, especially in the midst of the circumstances the country faces? For five years and counting, UNITY Roundtable supports 14 multicultural student organizations that span students of color and queer, disabled and religious communities on campus. “UNITY has a set budget where we plan numerous events, but our main goal is to really help uplift and amplify our marginalized groups on campus,” said JJ Binion, a former UNITY Co-President and Drake senior. “Those organizations come to us when they need money for events or support or they weren’t even promoted. UNITY is really there as a tool to help with these multicultural and marginalized groups.” Nearly all groups represented by UNITY saw events canceled this spring, with UNITY’s end-of-year multicultural barbeque tacked onto that list. “It’s one of our big events where students from all backgrounds come together to share some food, some games and some laughter, and some unity,” Binion said. “I haven’t necessarily been where I feel [that] my feelings are on the forefront or like the things that I express aren’t taken seriously, and I feel like that’s the case for a lot of marginalized students here on campus,” Whether it be your race or your sexual identity, or even a physical disability, I think when it comes to marginalized students speaking up for issues we’re not necessarily heard.” A community-focused group, UNITY seeks to elevate the voices of each member.
While quarantined at home, UNITY stayed busy. Students elected two new Equity and Inclusion Student Senators who took over at the end of the school year as co-presidents of the organization. Understanding the impacts following George Floyd’s murder on students, the leaders plan to advocate for their needs this fall. “I have a lot of friends who are students of color who have been particularly impacted by the events of the last few weeks,” said Morgan Coleman, a co-president of UNITY and a junior at Drake. “So my big thing that I’ve refocused toward is making sure that mental health services can be provided for those students and making sure that we have a support system, that they have access to in some way express their feelings and express how that kind of plays a role in their campus life as well.” As student representatives for equity and inclusion, the two women of color will work with Drake’s faculty and administration, connect them with student concerns and strive for an equitable mindset on campus. “For me personally, equity and inclusion, like yes, it is a commitment, but it’s a daily commitment,” said Madyson Sklar, UNITY co-president and Drake junior. “It’s not just a commitment when something happens on campus.” After all this time apart, students hope to return in the fall and seek the needed changes on Drake’s campus (and maybe sing that song about reuniting). “Whatever we have to do, if we have to sit in a huge circle on Helmick Commons, or if we take up a space in the science connector building where we can spread all the tables apart and everyone can still be safe. Cool. We’re going to figure that out,” Sklar said. “At the end of the day, those in-person meetings are really where UNITY connections form and where those collaborations for events come from.” Visit drake.edu/diversity to learn about how to get involved with Drake’s multicultural communities! Get in touch with student leaders: [email protected] and [email protected]
2. Drake Environmental Action League (DEAL)
Nature. The only place to “get out” when cities across the country locked down. Even non-outdoorsy types gained an appreciation for it, if only because it kept us sane. While people enjoyed the outdoors as a leisure activity, Drake Environmental Action League also wanted to ensure it wasn’t taken for granted. The group adopted a portion of Forest Avenue to clean once a semester – this year, members rid even more places of trash. “We had a virtual street cleanup this semester during Earth Week,” said Ella Field, DEAL president and Drake junior. “We challenged members to pick up trash around their neighborhood and share photos with us.” Thanks to the Netflix Party feature, even the annual screening of a nature documentary stayed on the agenda. “The members join on and you can all watch the same documentary or Netflix program at the same time. Then in the side, you can type little comments,” Field said. Although a learning curve accompanied the transition to an online format, it will come in handy in case Drake’s plans turn virtual at any point. “I think we definitely learned a lot from it, especially myself and just figuring out ‘Oh we should use this platform and we should have meetings every so often,’” she said. “[We were] just figuring out how to do things since we had to [have] new innovative ways to connect with people.” Whether virtual or in-person, DEAL will embrace the fall semester to keep educating and engaging Drake students. Email [email protected] about getting involved and making Drake a more sustainable campus.
3. College Republicans
In the center of campus, colorful window clings bearing the phrase, “Where Politics Come Alive” replace Meredith Hall’s façade. Students across campus and the political spectrum accept those words as a mission and act through organizations like College Republicans. “[We are] a community of conservatives at Drake,” said John Altendorf, Co-Chair of College Republicans and a Drake senior. “A place for people to discuss their ideas, to become more informed on their beliefs and other’s beliefs within the conservative spectrum.” Students begin to own their beliefs in college, and rising generations of students want to advocate for and share what they think. For College Republicans, this means expressing the views of a younger conservative generation. “The best college campus is one that completely supports the free market of ideas, and to do that you need all sides of the ideological spectrum and beliefs,” Altendorf said. “…At times the conservative students, it doesn’t feel like they want to speak up, and we want to make sure that they have those tools to do that, that they feel like they’re able to do that, because it’s an important part of the discussion. Conservative views and platforms can be just as academically friendly as liberal, progressive views.” Despite the chaos of finishing spring semester online, members attended Zoom calls about the Student Senate election and to speak with House candidate David Young with similar success as previous in-person events.
Hosting a speaker on campus remains a goal for College Republicans this fall as Drake currently plans to bring students back to a “pandemic-proofed” campus. Recent protests sparked an idea to unite students across campus. “Another option would be someone to discuss the issues going on today with racial justice, which is one of the issues I think that people are a lot more aligned with than social media likes to portray,” he said. “I think it’d be cool if we could collaborate with some other organizations and get a speaker that we all would like to hear from on these issues.” To get connected with College Republicans, reach out to [email protected]
4. Drake Democrats
After an unprecedented Iowa caucus season that kept many Drake political fanatics frantic for months, the members of Drake Democrats might feel a little blue nowadays. (Plus one if you saw the pun). “It’s always election time for us,” Drake Democrats President Kody Craddick said. A primary contest for an Iowa Senate seat commanded members’ attention throughout the rest of the quarantined semester. “We actually had a Facebook Live Senate debate watch party, which was fairly successful,” Craddick said. “[The television show] Iowa Press had a debate a few weeks ago. We were able to put something together and have members join us.” In a time when we look to elected officials to lead, voters need engagement to effectively decide who will resolve issues and how. “We knew it was a difficult time for everybody to be active in the organization, but we also knew that we should at least provide an outlet for people to have a sense of normalcy,” he said. “Immediately after we found out, we were all quarantined. We were already starting to have meetings on what can we do virtually? What can we do to make sure students remain politically active on campus?” Even if the general election must go virtual this November, the Drake Democrats happily await the challenge. Email [email protected] to get more information and join the group.
5. D+ Improv Troupe
Improv entertains and amazes — a hard combo to beat. How does someone come up with comedy in a split second? Who cares when the laughs matter most, both to the audience and performers like Drake’s D+ Improv Troupe. Perhaps the funniest student organization on campus, this troupe provides students comic relief whenever possible. “We partner a lot with other groups on campus doing little 15 minutes shows or openers for other projects and organizations, and then try to have at least two or three of our own independent hour-long shows per semester too,” said Emily Smith, a Drake junior and D+ President. Although the pandemic put an end to live performances, in-person or virtual, shifting online allowed the group to explore an unseen side of improv: bonding. “We still are actually meeting even though the semester has ended about once a week to play Jackbox games or online games that we can play together remotely and just spend time with each other,” Smith said. Even without classes, connecting virtually helps create some sense of normalcy.
Comedic talent might come naturally, but the trust and relationships required to execute it need roots in communication. “Any improviser will tell you that something that’s really important in improv is the relationship you have with the people that you’re performing with,” Smith said. “Because you can have five of the funniest people on Earth on stage together, but if there’s no teamwork and they’re not actually enjoying what they’re doing with each other, it’s going to be a lot less entertaining to watch.” Improv may best embody the spirit of adaptability every student encountered this semester. “You have to adapt to every situation, literally in a scene,” she said. “You can’t be stuck in your ways if something goes awry or isn’t the way you planned it. So an ability to accept what is and change what you can and flow with what you can, I think those personal skills in me have been strengthened through my time doing improv.” Expect to see D+ back on campus this fall, Bulldogs — and prepare yourselves. Send a message to [email protected] for more information!
6. La Fuerza Latina
Re-established by four Latinx students in 2015 following a hiatus, La Fuerza Latina represents and supports Drake’s Latinx community. “We’ve established ourselves as one of the multicultural organizations that focuses on creating a safe space for Latinx students,” said Angelica Reyes, president of La Fuerza Latina and a Drake senior. Involved students enjoyed food-centric events on campus and mentored Latinx high school students before the pandemic. In February, 10 members attended the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute conference after a years-long gap. “It’s great because a lot of students took a lot away from it, and a lot of connections and it was just a great experience,” Reyes said. For the rest of the semester, social media communication and emails became the norm, as well as other efforts to ease the stress of the pandemic for members. “Because of our organization being kind of small we were able to listen to everybody,” Reyes said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things I took away was when these kinds of real situations happen, you just really have to shut out the bigger people and listen to the people who are most vulnerable.” When the Black community called for allies’ support in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, La Fuerza Latina answered. “There’s this one organization called Food for Our Fighters where a lot of our members joined in to raise money and resources for a lot of the protests that are going on right now,” Reyes said. “That group is making sure that we’re standing up for other communities and making sure we’re showing up for them when they show up for us.” Contact [email protected] to learn more and get involved.
7. Positive MENtality
Ask Drake students what they miss most from school — “friends” likely tops the list. Student organizations provide a source of connection and comfort, two things all students lost in the sudden transition to near-complete isolation. Positive MENtality provides a space for connection and open conversation ranging from topics like gender roles and the real definition of masculinity to consent and sexual assault. “What I love about Positive MENtality is that you can just go and have a conversation with a great group of guys and really discuss what you feel on a certain topic and things you struggled with on that topic,” said Matt Deike, a first-year at Drake. Although held in the form of an informal group discussion, the group possesses the power to educate and dispel stereotypes. “[The group] just taught me a lot being a man, a true man, and finding that definition not by society, but in myself,” he said. Before spring break, the weekly meetings on Mondays at 8:30 p.m. meant a refuge, a break and a time to engage and unpack feelings from the past week. The pandemic shifted them to Zoom meetings at 7 p.m. instead, but the group’s support for one another did not cease. “The majority of the conversation was how we’re doing with that transition back to home,” Deike said. “We’d have these important conversations, but it was also like a huge support group, especially for someone [who] was a first-year in college and spring semester got cut short.” One way or another, Positive MENtality plans to keep up their connections in the fall. The group welcomes Drake students of any gender identities to join; reach out to [email protected] for more information.
8. Student Senate
Despite empty campuses and distance between members, governments must continue, even if only to keep things afloat. Luckily, Drake’s student government embodies a spirit of adaptation and flexibility. “I feel like there’s never really a typical semester for the Drake Student Senate,” said Adam Koch, student body president and a Drake senior. “The spring semester is usually a little bit busier because there are the elections at the end of year and the annual funding.” This year, saving these important items for last, including a vote on providing free menstrual products on campus, also meant transitioning them online. “We had some of our most important general items to work on all happening right when we had to go online,” he said. Although the spring semester ended, the Student Senate’s work persists as the world faces simultaneous crises.
As the news turned towards the pandemic and urgent calls for racial justice, Drake’s student executives shifted their focus in the same direction. What does this mean for Drake students? Action. To help students financially impacted by COVID-19, Student Senate calls on those holding the purse strings — “I’ve been working with our civic engagement senator to reach out to have conversations with some of our representatives to share the student experience and the student concerns,” Koch said. Student Senate will also look at partnerships with Drake’s chapter of the NAACP, which created a petition with more than 2,000 signatures asking the university to cut ties with the Des Moines Police Department. “Over the past weeks, we have seen the people of Des Moines, including students, faculty, and alumni who attend Drake University, in the attempt to peacefully protest or simply walking through campus, get assaulted, tear-gassed, or harassed,” the petition reads. “Drake University has direct ties with the Des Moines Police Department, those who have committed these acts unjustly.” Seeing a passionate and urgent response unfold makes action the only appropriate step right now. “I realized especially with the pandemic there’s a lot we can’t do right now, but also looking at the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and seeing how the communities have risen up, and the students of Drake have risen up, we really can have more control of our fate than we realize,” Koch said. This movement will follow students back to campus this fall — grab this chance to make the voices that matter heard. Get in touch via [email protected] and stay up to date with drakesenate.com.
9. Rainbow Union
With Pride Month upon us, Drake’s Rainbow Union can finally enjoy this time after the losses of spring semester. “[The pandemic] canceled the entirety of our Pride Week, which was unfortunate to say the least,” said Brynn Yetzer, Rainbow Union president and a junior at Drake. Students look forward to a drag show each semester that benefits Iowa Safe Schools, an organization supporting LGBTQ+ youth statewide. “In a replacement for our drag show, we worked with [the Student Activities Board] and brought Monique Hart from RuPaul’s Drag Race and did a drag bingo event. So it was bingo with Monique being the host,” Yetzer said. Apart from fun or educational events, Rainbow Union meetings offer an outlet for discussion and connection with like-minded people. “It was still important to maintain the sense of community that we have because a lot of our members don’t have the support that there is between members of Rainbow Union at home,” they said. “It’s really important to have a supportive community, and with being sent home for so long, it’s really kind of vital for our community to have each other, to have people to talk to and reach out to.” Reach out to Drake Rainbow Union at [email protected] to learn more.
10. American Marketing Association
Students traditionally loathe group projects. Everyone suffers through at least one disastrous scenario that ends with staying up late the night before and utterly winging it. For some, a virtual group project would appear to reach a new level of horror and complication. But not for Drake’s chapter of the American Marketing Association. “If you are a member, in the spring you can participate in what we call the Coke Project,” said Kristen Tollas, AMA president and Drake senior. “We have a partnership with Coca-Cola. The Atlantic bottling company has a distribution center in the Des Moines area, so we do a big integrated marketing plan for them every spring.” By the time the pandemic gained steam in March and sent students home, the group already put in several months of work on this year’s Coke Project, which meant no turning back. “People just split up into different [parts],” Tollas said. “[If] somebody had already taken on a [piece] it was now up to them to finalize the research and finalize the designs.” Students took charge of collaboration and communication to successfully coordinate a 40-page marketing plan (Phew! That deserves a round of applause right there). “Everybody’s pretty creative in their one way and people have different specialties, so it’s kind of cool to see how we all work together,” she said. Even on a socially distanced campus AMA will keep meeting, networking (virtually) and growing together. If you geek all things marketing and enjoy creating 40-page documents, email [email protected] and join AMA.