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Ryan Arnold ends 5.5-year tenure as Director of Community Engagement

A headshot of departing director of community engagement, Ryan Arnold. Ryan Arnold ended his career at Drake University on Feb. 23 During his time at Drake, Arnold, an 11-year resident of the neighborhood, collaborated on projects like the Broadlawns Community Clinic. Photo Courtesy of Ryan Arnold

While serving as a minister at First Christian Church in the 2010s, Ryan Arnold often visited the Boys and Girls Club on the fourth floor. During one such visit, Arnold and a few Black boys were playing on their bikes, and Arnold asked if they ever rode around Drake’s campus.

“They said, ‘No if we do so, we’ll be arrested.’ Now, I don’t think that that was actually true, but I do believe that they were speaking a truth that somehow they had been given the message that they weren’t welcome,” Arnold said. “Fast forward to the summer of 2018, and the Burt Boys and Girls Club is going to open up that fall semester…The playground is open, and I am watching young Black boys ride their bikes all through campus, playing on the playground. And to me, that’s encouraging that whatever perceptions were in the past — under [President Marty Martin’s] leadership, and under the good work of myself and other colleagues — we’ve made strides in changing those perceptions.” 

Changing those perceptions was only part of Arnold’s job. Arnold just ended his 5.5-year tenure as Drake’s director of Community Engagement, during which he worked to create a welcoming environment for all people, he said. His passion for inclusivity has driven his career since his time in ministry. 

Now, Arnold returns to a faith-based establishment as Vice President of Institutional Advancement at the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas. 

“To be able to serve in administration of Austin Seminary is an ability for me to live out that faith in a professional setting in service to the mission of Austin Seminary, a mission that is closely aligned with my own faith,” Arnold said.

During his tenure, Arnold built relationships with the Drake community as both a spokesperson of the institution and a 11-year resident of the Drake neighborhood. In his absence, members of the University Advancement office and the Community Engaged Learning office will temporarily maintain these relationships and manage ongoing projects.

As Drake’s ambassador to the local neighborhood association, Arnold often mediated between groups with diverse interests — a “difficult task” that Arnold “handled really well,” according to Assistant Director of Community Engaged Learning Amanda Martin.

“Sometimes his job was hard and a little controversial, and he was really open to having open conversations with students,” said Lori Calhoun, treasurer of the Drake Neighborhood Association.

Calhoun added that Arnold “does a great job of just sticking with facts and working people through issues and questions in a very diplomatic way. At the same time, he’s not afraid to ask those hard questions. I just think he does it in a very nonthreatening manner.”

Arnold said that potential students and parents concerned about the neighborhood’s safety often ask about the 1992 Drake Diner murders, in which two managers were killed. Arnold said the event created a persistent narrative that the Drake neighborhood is dangerous.

“I truly believe that typically what we’re dealing with is perception issues more than reality,” Arnold said. “My family and I have lived in this neighborhood for 11 years, and we have found it an incredibly welcoming, generous, thoughtful, engaging neighborhood to live, to work and to enjoy life.”

Arnold also contributed to DART’s decorative bus stops, the Medicom Stadium, the Broadlawns Community Clinic, WesleyLife’s Meals on Wheels program and Merge Development’s real estate projects.

Arnold’s colleagues said that, regardless of his career, they’re confident he’ll continue working towards a sense of welcome for all people.

“I think he’s very committed to making the world a better place for people, and we’re really glad he landed in our neighborhood to help us out,” Calhoun said.

Leannah Choi and Lily Wasserman contributed reporting

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