After over an academic year under the COVID-19 pandemic, students and faculty reflect on how the Drake community has been “Drake Together.” This phrase was coined and promoted by the Drake administration. It refers to supporting one another as a community while at the same time following the COVID-19 protocols in the Drake Together Compact.
“And so when we think about [Drake Together], we really look at holistically saying it’s about our response to the pandemic, but it’s also about how do we keep our relationships strong and intact, and how can we support one another?” said Jerry Parker, the dean of students at Drake. “And we do that by sticking together. And then hopefully, we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sandra Patton-Imani, an associate professor of American Studies at Drake, said that she has been “incredibly impressed” with the Drake community’s response to the pandemic.
“When I read newspaper articles about other campuses and how they’ve handled things and how they have these massive outbreaks, you know, I have to be pretty thankful for where I am,” Patton-Imani said. “And I think everybody kind of feels like, ‘oh, we’re all in the same boat. This is not ideal, but we’re all going to get through,’ and so people have just been really supportive.”
Patton-Imani said she has heard more reports of students having mental health problems this year “than ever before in my 30 years of teaching.”
“But people seem to be handling it really well. I’m trying to be as understanding as possible with students who are going through stuff, and students seem to be understanding of what everybody’s going through as well,” Patton-Imani said.
Students have found different ways to stay connected during the pandemic. Drake sophomore Busiwa Asinga said she has been reaching out to others with “little gestures” during the pandemic.
“Just trying to send people messages here and there, just to check in on them and see how they’re doing ‘cause this is not an ideal situation for anyone,” Asinga said. “So just trying to reach out more and be like, ‘Hey, if you wanna grab Starbucks, or go on a walk or something.’ I feel like little gestures like that have kind of made me reach out to more people in that regard.”
The “Drake Together” theme began to develop in the weeks after the start of the pandemic, according to Niki Smith, associate director of Communications and Marketing at Drake. Smith said the Communications and Marketing Department gathered or built on different groups’ efforts to maintain community ties during the pandemic for the Drake website. These “Drake Together” web pages include coloring sheets and Zoom backgrounds, as well as highlights of how different professors and students adapted their coursework to the pandemic.
“This was giving campus partners—professors, faculty, staff—a way to show the Drake community that we are here for you, we’re doing our best, you know, let us know what you need, [and] here are some resources we can give you to enjoy time at home,” Smith said.
Members of the Drake community have used the hashtag in posts ranging from a Drake student creating a Painted Street square at home to Drake Recreational Services suggesting a podcast episode about social health. As the 2020-2021 academic year has progressed, Parker said the administration has encouraged “Drake Together” with weekly COVID-19 updates, emails from the administration and the use of #DrakeTogether on social media.
“As much as we can advocate, you know, regarding mental health, putting sessions out there for students to connect with one another, that’s been another means of really trying to keep people from becoming too isolated,” Parker said.
Parker said that while many co-curricular activities have been happening virtually, the number of face-to-face events is beginning to increase.
“And that will continue as long as those [COVID-19] numbers stay where they’re at and don’t go up,” Parker said.
Smith said the “Drake Together” movement is based on a core value of “all in this together” at Drake.
“It was nice that we already had that core value set up ahead of the pandemic, and that’s not just lucky,” Smith said. “It’s because it is something that the Drake community really does embrace.”