On Feb. 18, Lorissa Sowden, assistant dean of students and director of residence life at Drake University, sent out an email informing campus residents that an unknown person or persons vandalized a third floor bulletin board in Crawford Hall with racist speech. An email from Drake provost Sue Mattison on Feb. 21 notified campus that an unknown person or persons had also vandalized an area of Cowles Library with racist speech.
The Drake administration is encouraging any students with information about the perpetrators to contact Drake Public Safety or any member of Drake’s Student Affairs team.
In the immediate aftermath of this vandalism, Jennifer Harvey, the associate provost of campus equity and inclusion, sent out an email inviting “all members of the Drake community whom we know who are directly affected” to a meeting in Levitt Hall on Feb 20. This included the Coalition of Black Students, Flight program, Crew Scholars, Bright College, Unity Roundtable and Residence Life staff.
Just over 30 people attended. Attendees included Sowden, Mattison and Harvey, as well as chief student affairs officer Jerry Parker, dean of students Hannah Clayborne, Bright College dean Craig Owens and Drake Counseling Center director Kayla Bell. The meeting was a space for affected students and staff to share their thoughts, feelings and reactions to the public act of racism on Drake’s campus.
“We are committed to providing a safe, healthy and inclusive living and learning environment for all our students and this behavior does not align with Drake University’s values and is unacceptable,” Sowden wrote in her email.
Mattison wrote in her email to campus that Drake “would not tolerate” racist acts like the recent vandalism. Additionally, she wrote that she heard at the Feb. 20 meeting that “students of color are exhausted, [and] facing overt racism and microaggressions every single day,” and promised that Drake would take action based on that feedback.
This is not the first time someone has posted racist or bigoted messages on Drake’s campus, according to previous reporting from The Times-Delphic. In 2018, an unknown person slid a racist threat under a Black first-year student’s door. In 2017, someone wrote a racist slur on a Black first-year student’s whiteboard outside their dorm room; in the same weekend, someone also carved a swastika onto the wall of the Olmsted elevator. In 2016, someone taped posters onto two Latina first-year students’ doors that attacked their identity.
Harvey said that marginalized communities on Drake’s campus continue to face discrimination and that combating these issues is always a work in progress.
“For many of us, myself included and including many of us in administration, the urgency about inclusion, decreasing incidents of racism, homophobia, transphobia, all of those –isms and phobias, both proactively and stronger actions plans—that urgency—I do not believe that it ever goes away,” Harvey said. “We’ve been talking since 2016, we’ve been talking since the notes in 2018. [We’ve discussed,] ‘Okay, we know these things will continue to happen, how do we increasingly get ready?’”
When incidents like this latest racist act of vandalism do happen at Drake, the administration’s response has included meeting the immediate needs of students affected by it. This means providing resources that can help students process the incident, like sessions at the counseling center or one-on-one conversations with administrators, as well as listening to student concerns.
Hearing students’ concerns is important to Harvey because it lets her and other administrators know where they’re falling short, and where they need to better communicate what work they’re already doing.
“It’s a gift when students are willing and able to say, ‘here’s a thing, here’s a falling short,’” Harvey said. “I also know it comes at a cost to them, so it makes me sad [that it’s necessary]; it’s not like ‘oh, thank you for that gift.’ But that’s how I receive it even when it’s articulated with anger.”
Drake Student Affairs and Academic Affairs are holding a series of listening and dialogue sessions in Levitt Hall this week and next week. Sessions for “Black students, students of color, and students [whose] religious and/or ethnic identities and experiences render them directly targeted by racist incidents” will be held on Feb. 28 from 4-5 p.m. and on March 8 from 4-5 p.m. and 5-6 p.m. Sessions for white students will be held on March 1 from 4-5 p.m. and Match 7 from 4-5 p.m. A session for faculty and staff will be held on March 2 from 4-5 p.m.
Harvey said that she shares students’ feelings of anger or exhaustion at this latest racist attack on the Black community at Drake.
“Yeah, you should be mad, and of course you’re tired, and exhausted. I’m sorry, and I’m also angry [along] with you,” Harvey said. “And you certainly don’t have to navigate it alone.”