BY HALEY HODGES
Most students at Drake University can’t say they spent a Saturday evening in a stranger’s basement, clapping and dancing to music sung in Hindi and Nepalese. Grace Boatman, a senior majoring in religion and psychology with a minor in Spanish, can say she has, multiple times now.
Boatman was enrolled in Professor Tim Knepper’s “Religions of Des Moines: Hinduism” course for the J-term. She and her classmates connected with a community of Bhutanese refugees who now practice Hindu in rotating basements until they are able to build a temple. Boatman recently returned to the Bhutanese community with a new group she’s a part of: SURJ.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a group in Des Moines that Boatman said she got involved with earlier this school year.
“I was in a class, ‘Psychology of Prejudice,’ and part of the class was to go to a bunch of different events on campus and be a part of multicultural organizations and somehow throughout all of that I heard about SURJ,” Boatman said. “I went to a meeting one night and I thought it was something that was really cool and something I wanted to be a part of.”
Since her involvement began in October, Boatman has begun helping coordinate events for SURJ to attend within religious communities in the area.
“My role in this is that I have a lot of connections with the religious communities because of my religion major and different classes I’ve taken and the stuff I’ve been a part of at Drake,” Boatman said.
So far, Boatman has coordinated meetings with the Iowa Sikh Association, tried to build a relationship with some of the Mosques in the area and now has used her connections to bring members of her group to a Bhajan service for the Hindu community.
“Even though SURJ is a national organization, each chapter is able to focus on things that they can really do in their community,” Boatman said. “Our chapter focuses on education, legislation and immigrant justice. I’m part of the immigration justice team. What we do is brainstorm different ways that we can help in the community to educate SURJ members as well as the rest of the Des Moines community on non-Western communities that live in Des Moines.”
Boatman said that a main goal of SURJ is to help connect primarily Caucasian allies who want to make a difference with a way to actually do make that difference.
“It’s really important to me because it’s an organization that I feel like is making strides and doing things and is actually making some sort of a difference, whether or not you can tangibly see that difference immediately,” Boatman said. “… A lot of the rhetoric that has been going around affects communities and people that are important to me.”
With her majors, Boatman has had the chance to meet members of differing religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. She gets to see what they’re like and what they do up close. She said she’s been upset with the recent negativity in politics and the news toward some of those groups in particular.
“Knowing my own experience in those communities and how welcoming and kindhearted those people are compared to what’s being said about them is really difficult, and I want to change that with the privileges that I do have while also being helpful,” Boatman said.
Boatman was able to coordinate the first visit to the Bhajan service where about fifteen other members of SURJ joined in the celebration and met the community. In the future, Boatman is hopeful to continue the connection with the people they met there and be a resource for them if they ever need it.