DES MOINES, Iowa - This week 50 students of color from the Des Moines Public Schools system are coming together at Drake University to talk about college and the obstacles they face in getting there.
The Wanda Everage Academic Success Symposium, named after Wanda Everage, a Drake alumna with deep connections to DMPS, is a week-long course designed to help break down barriers students of color face in going to college. One of the major themes involves tackling race-based discussions on a predominantly white campus, like Drake University.
"And they may choose to enroll in a predominantly white institution, and they may be the only person of color in their class - in which they may fall under stereotype threat, which they may feel they have to talk for their entire race, so they have a higher anxiety that comes with them," said Bryan Thomas, an organizer with Drake University. "Because from there, it could be assumed based on what they say, someone else will perceive it as, 'Well that's what all this person of color thinks, or that's what the whole LGBT community thinks, or something like that. So from there, helping to equip those tools, and all those tools, to make sure they're successful in the future."
Learning how to navigate conversations about race is central to the symposium, Thomas says. In addition, these high-school students are hearing from college students on best study practices to make it through high school and succeed at a university. One incoming freshman at Drake says her experiences in high school here in Des Moines led her to help start this event.
"Iowa is a very diverse state and I believe it's important to include all people from all different backgrounds," said Courtnei Caldwell. "And so, this symposium will help students, like, shed light to the situations that they deal with in school. Because I feel like sometimes we are very quiet about the situations, we don't want to talk about it, or it's too much of a touchy topic to be talked about - when it needs to be talked about."