This Monday, Drexel students began their third fully-online term, coinciding with agitating civic events in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the new rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the upcoming November election. However, student options to engage with these movements on campus are extremely limited, since all academic activities are now remote and a big part of the Drexel University population was not physically present.
But some groups of students came up with the idea to participate virtually. The tool? Social media.
After watching the panel organized by the University regarding BLM at the end of June, a Black graduate student (who decided to remain anonymous) was scrolling through social media when she found an Instagram account named “Black at Temple.” This account was used to share stories of racist encounters or microaggressions at Temple University. She also found a similar account for “Black at UPenn” and many other universities. After this, she went to look for an account like this for Drexel and she did not find any. After checking again some weeks later, she decided to open the “Black at Drexel” account with the handle @blackatdrexel on Instagram on July 1.
“I knew there were stories out there and these stories needed to be told and students’ voices needed to be told,” the student and founder of this account said. Since then, over 33 anonymous stories of racial aggressions at Drexel have been posted in the account. “What I have seen populating our campus are racial microaggressions or Black folks feeling impostor’s syndrome of being here, but with the @blackatdrexel stories, you can also see some other strong racial aggressions that have occurred on campus and how they treat the community.”
A week after creating the account, a friend reached out to the student and brought another issue to her attention. There was also a need a safe space in the community for people sharing their sexual assault experiences. This is how “#MeToo Drexel University,” or @metoodrexel, was born. This account has since shared around 30 anonymous stories of sexual assault at the University.
“The DMs have become a therapeutic space for women to share and process. … I think people [resort] to telling their stories anonymously here instead of reporting, first because it isn’t easy but I also think [the Office of Equality and Diversity] is lacking the staff and the body to really be able to advocate for students,” the founder of these accounts said. She also shared that it sometimes takes days to sift through the mass of stories because of how impactful they are.
The impact this account has had at the University was shown after posting several stories of sexual assault in the Cinema and TV Department. The Instagram account of this Westphal department made a statement showing solidarity with victims.
“We must become a community of allies, united in protecting and empowering all students. We will share details on initiatives when we can, but please know we are inspired by the bravery of those sharing their stories as we advocate for change,” read the post by @drexelcinetv on Instagram, published Sept. 11.
Additionally, since the opening of these new accounts, some people from the Office of Equality and Diversity and the Student Center for Diversity and Inclusion have reached out to show support.
“…I did not come up with the idea of this account but I am also a victim of rape culture, so I thought it was a beautiful thing to open these windows that represent both of my identities: not only being a woman, but also a Black woman,” the graduate student said. “I encourage everyone interested to share your stories through @blackatdrexel and @metoodrexel. These windows are always open.”
Another account that has gained a big mass of followers in the past months is the Drexel Community for Justice, or @drexelforjustice, on Instagram.
It was started by a group of College of Medicine students who wanted to write a letter to the Drexel administration in wake of the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They felt the momentum for the BLM movement was starting to fade out. Then, it began gaining support from more graduate and undergraduate students, alumni and faculty. Drexel staff even joined, leading the organization to become as strong as it is today, said Dylan Kaye, a student in the College of Medicine and a founder and director of Drexel Community for Justice.
Some topics the organization advocates for are defunding the private Drexel Police to stop over-policing in areas outside of campus, paying property taxes and getting out of the Payments In Lieu Of Taxes program and gentrification. These are all topics that have been touched and debated frequently in the media after the recent wave of the BLM movement.
“These are actions that affect the unprivileged communities of University City and West Philadelphia, and these are ways of perpetuating systematic racism,” Kaye said.
Some ways that they have engaged with their organization in times of social distancing are education infographics as social media posts, organizing Zoom meetings, conversations on Instagram lives, forming committees on specific issues, teach-ins on Zoom and virtual meetings to draft plans how to hold Drexel administration accountable.
However, in early August, they organized their first and only physical event called “March in University City,” organized in alliance with Penn Community for Justice and Police Free Penn. The protest was on police abolition, specifically for the Penn Police Department and the Drexel Police Department, asking for answers after pictures were revealed of Drexel Police arresting protesters outside of their jurisdiction in 52nd Street.
After expressing some of these advocacy goals to the administration of the university, Drexel Community for Justice was invited to take part in the new Anti-Racism Task Force, but they do not see this as a solution.
“We believe that the people on the Anti-Racism Task Force [have] all good intentions, we do think that there will be some positivity that comes from task forces like this, but, historically, these types of committees are just sort of a distraction to dissuade activism and keep change from happening. … But we have tried to maintain some kind of communication with the administration, especially people in the task force,” Kaye said.
Because of the nature of the content of the account, it has received mixed responses in favor and against their arguments. Nonetheless, they have more than 2,000 followers on Instagram and also have profiles on Facebook and Twitter as @drexel4justice. Anyone interested in being involved in research, advocacy, art, teaching or speaking opportunities can also contact the group through their email [email protected].
Finally, another social media account that recently became active in light of the upcoming presidential elections is @drexelvotes. This account is managed by two Drexel students, Sarah Resanovich and Carlie McWilliams, who each have a fellowship with the Campus Election Engagement Project.
“This is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is all about getting students to vote and to register, to understand all the rules with early voting and mailing voting, and non-partisan education,” Resanovick said.
In line with the University’s online term, all of their activities are virtual, as well. They hold office hours each week to address students’ questions about voting, organize debate-watch parties in October, roundtable discussions on social issues like health care and the economy and engagement nights with themes like making voting plans. They also promote initiatives like Voting Triplets, which motivates students to get other three students to vote, and help send information about voting through emails in alliance with the Lindy Center.
“Our generation is going to be a massive part of the voting electorate this year, so we definitely have an opportunity to make a lasting impact in our country, our state and our local elections,” Resanovick said. “So, voting is safe, easy and secure whether you choose to vote in person or by mail – it is your right to have your voice heard. We are going to be here to help you with any questions or confusion and you can go to campuselect.org for non-partisan resources and information on how to register to vote.”
In all, learning through virtual classes is not stopping Dragons from being civically and socially active these days.