STORY BY JESSICA LYNK
When walking around campus, most students can see that Drake University is predominately white.
For the past five years, the black, non-Hispanic ethnicity of the incoming freshman class has never reached over 3.5 percent, according to the 2014 databook.
“To put it frankly, Drake has a race problem,” Jennifer Harvey, associate professor of religion and co-director of a program called Crew Scholars said.
After discovering that students of color at Drake were not retainied and also not graduating, faculty and administration decided to do something about it.
This led to the creation of the Crew Scholars program.
The program, created two years ago, is designed to help combat the fact that Drake’s campus is not diverse.
“The program is made to help [minority students] figure out how they want to deal with and navigate the white racial climate at Drake, which can be really hostile to students of color’s experience here,” Harvey said.
In order to combat this hostile experience, 20 students from each class are admitted into the program meant to help guide students to graduation.
Crew Scholars have weekly meetings, called Crew Connect, to learn more about academics, life at Drake and how to support each other on campus.
“We do everything that most first-years go over to make them aware of all kinds of academic tools and introduce them to what Drake has to offer,” Harvey said.
“But we also spend time making them think about identifying what they need in terms of supporting themselves and thriving here, despite the racial climate.”
For first-year Abby Parra, this is her favorite part of the program.
“The Crew Connect sessions are the best because it gives us all a time to get together,” Parra said. “It is never a dull moment because someone has crazy stories or we get to meet someone new. When
I have to miss those, it ruins my week because it is what I look forward to.”
During these sessions, the students in the program are able to talk in a safe space about what they experience on a predominantly white campus in a safe space.
“When something racist happens, which it unfortunately happens every week in the residence halls or with a roommate, they have designed a space where they can safely vent around that, get support about that and talk to folks who have had other experiences similar to that so they don’t feel so isolated,” Harvey said.
Another unique part of the program is that all of the students sign a pledge to graduate.
For sophomore Taylor Corbin, this is a valuable competent.
“We are all there to reach a common goal of graduating and we would do anything to support each other to reach that goal,” Corbin said.
In order to facilitate a better campus, Crew Scholars not only works to support the students in the program, but also works to educate students, staff and facility on racial issues across campus.
“It makes me an advocate to bring more diversity [to Drake] and educate other people because a lot of people from Drake come from predominantly white areas, so they don’t know a lot about other cultures,” Parra said.
The Crew Scholars program not only works to fix the predominately white campus, but also hopes to bring success to students who are members of a minority.
“I hope that they will gain an actual experience of well-being here so that by the time they graduate they can say they thrived here and not just survived,” Harvey said. “I hope they come out feeling like Drake really invested in them and showed in a concrete way that it cares about them, even though they are underrepresented as students.”