STORY AND PHOTO BY CARSON J.S. REICHARDT
College life typically provides students with access to a wide variety of resources and opportunities. From obvious perks such as a degree and advisors to help them reach their goals, to less thought-of benefits like always having a room to sleep in, students receive benefits in many ways.
For Brittany Freeman, these perks are an incentive to give back to the community around her. Freeman, a sophomore, dedicates much of her free time to service work. She serves as a Student Learning Ambassador, president of Nextcourse Food Recovery, and a member of Drake’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program. Even before working with these campus organizations, she was busy in high school, where she volunteered with the National Honors Society and Key Club.
“A lot of my service work had a lot to do with going to places, doing the work, and then leaving. It didn’t involve any education or reflection,” Freeman said. “This year I’m working as a Service Learning Ambassador, really talking about intentional service work on campus and making sure we’re doing a lot of stuff so Drake students are leaving as engaged citizens.”
Her decision to get involved at Drake had a remarkably simple rationale.
“At a university like Drake, I have the resources now, and I don’t know where I’ll ever have them again. I’ve never been a passive person; if someone else can do it, it might as well be me. I don’t want to sit around waiting for someone else to do it when I could just do it now.”
Freeman originally began her academic career as a psychology major, but she soon switched after realizing that psychology’s “individualistic perspective” didn’t quite sit right with her.
“Thinking about the bottom-up perspective wasn’t enough,” she said. “I took a sociology class, and I started to see how big systems and structures affect the individual. All the systems and structures that we have in place are really affecting people more than we like to give them credit for. After I took the perspective, you can’t get that away; you can’t stop analyzing and critiquing. And I don’t want to take that away. I know it can take the fun away from things, but if you’re not looking at every situation you’re in with a critical point of view, you’re going to sit in a harmful perspective.”
While interning at Anawim housing, a nonprofit organization focused on homelessness outreach and affordable housing, Freeman was able to see the impact of the work she was doing first-hand, when a woman they’d been helping was approved for housing.
“I’ll never forget the moment she was given the keys to her house,” Freeman said. “She had a few young children, and her eyes lit up, her face lit up. She hugged the person who was in charge.”
That experience caused Freeman to look at the problem of homelessness in a new light.
“It makes me remember I have a house, running water, food, I have everything I need, and I need to help more people like her who don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “We don’t always need to give people cash; we can give empathy. That’s something I’ve really tried to do with my work in Des Moines and my work in life. Just being a better human is really what it’s about. We all have room to grow.”
Freeman’s approach to her work, as well as her general attitude towards service, show through clearly in an analogy she shared called “The Starfish Thrower.’
“Someone was throwing starfish back into the ocean on a beach. A man came up to that person up and said, ‘Why are you doing that? You know it’s never going to make a difference.’ And she said, ‘It makes a difference for that starfish.’ The more I can make a difference for one person, that makes it all worth it in the end.”
You can also listen to the interview on Soundcloud here.