by GRACE ALTENHOFEN
UNITY Roundtable, the governing body for Drake’s multicultural organizations, voted to approve a yearly stipend for each of their co-presidents at the first meeting of the year Sept. 9.
Co-presidents, sophomore Peyton Maulsby and senior JJ Binion will each receive $3,500 for their leadership in UNITY during the 2019-20 school year.
“I knew we would get a stipend towards the end of last year; I didn’t know how much until about a week ago,” Maulsby said. “It’s crazy. When we were first notified, we were like, ‘Oh my god, that’s too much.’”
The student senate allotted $25,000 for UNITY this year, a $10,000 increase over last year. $7,000 of that increase will cover the co-presidents’ stipends, money that Binion said is proportional to time and effort the co-presidents put in.
“Like last year, considering all the hard work that [the former co-presidents] Rebecca and Megan did and the fact that they didn’t get paid for their positions and they did so much, and it’s emotionally exhausting,” Binion said. “It’s not going to help cover that hole that the work does, but it will help provide some cushion.”
The push to compensate the leaders of UNITY came from last year’s co-presidents, according to Maulsby.
“Last year, after everything happened in the fall with the racial threats and stuff, the things that our presidents dealt with last year were so intense that they thought since we’re a governing organization, we have an executive board [and] Student Senate exec gets paid, that we should have the same courtesy,” Maulsby said.
According to faculty advisor, Assistant Dean of Students Tony Tyler, there had simply not been a focus on compensation for UNITY leadership in the past.
“There was never money allocated for it. Nobody ever set up money to give them funding for it,” Tyler said. “It was just one of those things where I think people started to look around and say ‘Hey, there’s a lot of effort and a lot of labor being put into this, we should be doing this. There’s a need, let’s fill the need.’”
In the end, the stipends were approved unanimously by the UNITY representatives from seven multicultural organizations.
“Honestly, I was relieved,” Binion said. “I was a little scared at first and especially, we had our exec board meeting and we talked about although they did increase our budget, we didn’t want to take away from [UNITY’s funds].”
However, the approved stipends still leave UNITY’s budget with a $3,000 increase over prior years, money that will be used to fund other multicultural organizations’ projects as well as some of UNITY’s own. One such project is Binion’s planned ‘Black Table Discussions’, in which he will host forums to discuss a variety of multicultural topics.
“[There will be] a prompt for the discussion, mediator and just an open forum,” Binion said. “I’m [going to have] maybe three to five questions, just talking points, you talk to your neighbor if you want to share out. Just to sort of get a discussion going. We’ll also encourage faculty and professors also to come because their opinions matter.”
Starting these conversations is a good step towards improving inclusivity on campus, Tyler said.
“My approach generally is to say I want the energy to come from the students as far as what seems important and what seems like we need to focus on,” Tyler said. “I would say my goals for them always are to support community building, to make sure what we’re doing is centered on students and students’ experiences and we’re supporting them, to provide the most equitable and inclusive campus we can.”
This is the kind of campus culture Binion hopes to promote through UNITY, and he encourages both current and prospective students to come join in the conversation.
“Although Drake does have a history of being predominantly white, in order to change that, we have to show up,” Binion said. “There’s not always going to be a seat at the table, I like to say, so sometimes you have to bring not only your own folding chair, but you have to bring your own table. That’s something that’s extremely important, so if you are considering coming to Drake, please bring the chairs and the tables.”