In the week leading up to the election, students saw a new hashtag trend floating around Drake social media: #engagepoliticsweek.
The bipartisan movement was crafted by Associate Provost for Campus Equity and Inclusion Erin Lain, Drake faculty and staff and the leaders of student political organizations on campus.
“There was a bipartisan group of students, faculty and staff that have been meeting for the last month or so,” Lain said. “We were getting together on how to create an inclusive environment surrounding politics on campus and that’s how we came up with the #engagepoliticsweek.”
The goal was to unite the Drake community, regardless of students’ political affiliations.
“Our campus is very political and that’s one of the things we pride ourselves on,” Lain said. “We get a lot of candidates to visit us and I think it’s just really important that we have one another as a community surrounding the election, even though we might really disagree on politics.”
There are no specific events planned for Engage Politics Week; rather, Lain said the purpose is to provide students with resources and encourage an open dialogue about politics.
“It’s mostly just a resource-driven program. I’ve been posting resources on our page every day about different things that people can do to engage in politics in a respectful way,” Lain said. “We’ve also asked people to wear purple and maybe abstain from social media this week in order to talk to people in-person about their political views.”
According to Lain, the intent behind wearing purple is to demonstrate that Drake students are all part of a community, regardless of whether they vote red or blue.
“We’re all a part of Drake despite our political differences, which may be really strong,” Lain said. “There are lots of things that we have in common and values that we hold near and dear to us, and also that we live and work and learn in this environment together, so I think those are the important things that we need to recognize in this week before the election. It’s important to have those dialogues.”
Drake Democrats President Kody Craddick said he believes in the importance of having these conversations on campus, especially during an election year.
“I was kind of drafted into that, all the political heads on campus were kind of asked to be a part of it, to try to bridge divides and ensure that we’re having a healthy conversation,” Craddick said. “I think that the intent is good, it’s just kind of ensuring that we’re having a productive conversation and having the realization of what our role is on Drake’s campus and the role of Drake University in politics.”
According to Craddick, it is important to have resources available to students to help them cope with the stress of the election as well.
“[It’s] just kind of having resources available for people,” Craddick said. “This is a stressful time for a lot of people, a lot of anxieties are being wrought because of this election, and our main focus is to ensure that people have the resources and people have the outlets to ensure that they have a place to air their opinions and have a healthy part in the process.”
Craddick said that part of being a politically engaged campus means welcoming different political opinions.
“I think that it’s important to continue our discourse on campus,” Craddick said. “I think we are such a politically active campus, we should really be showing that aspect of it. We’re not all going to agree all the time, and I think harnessing our energy to show that we are a campus that welcomes a discourse, welcomes a disagreement, that’s an appropriate way of continuing the conversation.”
John Altendorf, co-chair of the Drake College Republicans and part of the committee for Engage Politics Week, said that this is something Drake needs to work on year-round.
“Engage Politics Week is a great program put on by Drake, but the university can and must continue to do more from top to bottom to support a more inclusive political environment for students on campus year-round,” Altendorf said. “Rather than one-off programming to check a box, the university should have year-round programming supporting the free market of ideas with respect and civility.”
According to Altendorf, conservative students do not always feel welcome or included in political discourse on campus. However, he said Drake College Republicans is always willing to work on bipartisan issues and seek to engage in conversations about different political beliefs.
“Drake College Republicans has always been willing to work with our friends in Drake Democrats. We have worked together to promote free speech events and voting,” Altendorf said. “It is important for Drake conservatives and Democrats to collaborate and set an example for how college students can disagree without being disagreeable. It is important for us to have a healthy discussion about our ideas while engaging with respect and understanding that each of us wants what is best for our communities, even if we have different paths to reaching that goal.”