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Iowa Student Action organizes rally on campus

Some Drake University students and members of the local community expressed their disagreement with the university’s COVID-19 response during a rally organized by Iowa Student Action on Sept. 15.

A group of more than 20 gathered to demand that Drake share complete infection data, provide testing for everyone on campus and ultimately make the decision to close campus and move classes completely online. 

The group moved around Helmick Commons in masks while carrying signs and chanting “People over profits” and “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.” Distancing was also required and was maintained for most of the rally. At some points during the event, people stood closer than six feet apart.

Several student speakers took time during the rally to share their thoughts on Drake’s response measures.

“Last semester when there were 14 total cases in the state of Iowa, this university shut its doors because it wasn’t safe,” Drake senior Connor Sullivan said in his speech. “And now that there are over 25,000 cases in Iowa, it’s somehow safe for all of us to be here?”

Students interjected calls of “That ain’t right,” throughout the speeches.

Senior Emily Miles discussed the university’s response to the threatening racist notes sent to several Black students on campus in 2018 and called on the administration to not repeat that response to COVID-19.

“Instead of taking action and actually taking the right steps for protecting its students, they painted a circle in the middle of campus black,” Miles said. “I don’t know if you guys are noticing, but us students like most people in the world right now have had enough. How many Black and brown students and community members have to die, go missing or be threatened for you to actually care about their safety?” 

Provost Sue Mattison said she intends to comment on the rally and the demands from students in an upcoming interview.

Organizers ended the rally by leading the group to Old Main and directed their calls to President Marty Martin, shouting “Open the door Marty.”

Sophomore and Iowa Student Action organizer Abby Bankes got COVID-19 after returning to campus and said her case was “avoidable.”

“Having COVID really re-grounded me in the fight for why we need to close schools and go online,” Bankes said. “I shouldn’t be living in a residence hall right now.”

Bankes said Iowa Student Action is part of a larger network under the umbrella of People’s Action, a nonprofit community organizing group. At the rally attendees were invited to take action by joining the Drake chapter of Iowa Student Action and “establish a movement of students bigger than this university.”

Community members also attended the rally to support students and include their voices among those concerned with the university’s response. Giovanni Bahena lives in the Des Moines area and said he worries about how Drake’s response to the pandemic may affect the surrounding community. He called living in Des Moines right now “terrifying” due to the national attention Iowa received as a hotspot for coronavirus cases.

Drake alumna and community member Kate Broderick said although everyone would prefer in-person classes, she wants to see the university move classes online for the safety of all on campus.

“We should always be taking the very safest option, no matter what, because it’s lives at risk here. They try and make safety measures. They try and do social distancing. But the bottom line is that it’s not working and they know it’s not working,” Broderick said. “Should anybody have fatal cases or even just get COVID . . . it’s this university’s fault and it’s the administration that is putting people at risk here, and there’s no doubt about that.”

Bahena said he thinks students should share their concerns because “in almost every situation, the citizens of any sort of community are the employers of any person in power.”

“When you think of Des Moines City Council, it is the citizens of Des Moines who are the Des Moines city council employers, the students of any college or university are the employers of the administrators,” Bahena said. “So when they unify, it is essential that they unify together to tell the people that work for them whether or not they’re doing a good job.”

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