by GRACE HILSCHER
Trigger Warning: The following article may contain triggering and/or sensitive material. The goal of the article is not to retraumatize those impacted by the events of last fall, but to educate and remind readers of some of the positive results.
As Drake University reflects on the events of last year, many Drake faculty, staff and students remember the events that transpired. However, it is likely that first-year and transfer students may not know the entirety of what occurred on campus last fall, if any of it at all.
On Nov. 8, 2018, the first note was found. The note, which contained racial slurs, was found slid under the door of a student of color. The following day, the idea for #PaintItBlack was formed and taken to student senate for approval.
Within the following days, #PaintItBlack became a movement with official social media accounts and posts. On Nov. 12, students and members of the administration met to discuss the implications of the note and what would occur next, when robocalls with racial threats called hundreds of campus landlines. Later, it was discovered that the white supremacist group Road to Power was responsible for the robocalls.
Instead of stopping the meeting due to fear, which was the assumed goal of the robocalls, they continued to talk about the upcoming rally and other ways they could support students and combat racism. During the meeting after the robocalls, Drake President Marty Martin agreed to paint the street black.
Nov. 13, the second note was found. The following day was the rally at Helmick Commons, where students gathered to protest. On Nov. 15, the third and fourth notes were found on campus. On Nov. 16 students and staff gathered to paint the historic Painted Street black.
The tradition of painting Painted Street was originally an exclusively Greek affair for fraternities and sororities on campus.
“It has evolved in exactly the way you want it to evolve; from exclusive to inclusive,” said Martin in reflection on the beloved tradition.
The act of painting Painted Street black was a clear statement of solidarity. Since the very conception of the idea to start #PaintItBlack, the intention was to make a clear message that hate is not tolerated and Drake stands together as a community.
On Nov. 28 the fifth and final note was found. Two days later on Nov. 30 Martin sent out an email to campus identifying the student who admitted to writing the last four notes. Some media outlets have called the last four notes fake and a hoax, but First-Year Seminar (FYS) Professor and Assistant Dean of Students Tony Tyler prefers the word copycats: even though the notes were copy of the original, the trauma they caused is real.
Within the past year following the events of last autumn, many things have changed. Employees are required to take implicit bias training, Bulldog Foundations was created, the Office of Equity and Inclusion is in the process of expanding, more talks on equity and inclusion
were added to Welcome Weekend, an equity and inclusion module was created for students to take, and an FYS was created and dedicated to the study of the events of #PaintItBlack.
For several years, Tyler taught the #BlackLivesMatter FYS where his students studied the Black Lives Matter movement from a historic, social perspective.
During last fall about halfway into the semester, while the events of #PaintItBlack began to occur, Tyler and his students intentionally shifted their focus to the #PaintItBlack movement.
He did not want to let go of all of the organizing that was done, the people-power that was engaged, and the important learning lessons that our community learned last fall. He then created the FYS to engage First-Year Students in relevant case material.
Tyler’s class is currently split into groups working on creating a webpage and an anniversary celebration.
“We’re planning to have a display in the Olmsted Breezeway and show the #PaintItBlack documentary that was created by two Drake students,” said Connor Oetzmann, First-Year Senator and a student in Tyler’s class.
The documentary screening will be Nov. 25th at 7p.m. As Drake University commemorates one year since #PaintItBlack it is important to remember what lead the campus to take action.
“Be kind to others. Sometimes we forget that,” President Martin said. “If we start there it provides a real strength against these things. I encourage you to reflect on that.”