Darcell Stokes came to Iowa not knowing what she wanted to study. The Waterloo native found her academic passion studying social justice issues, became integrated in the LGBTQ community through the Pride Alliance Center, and now aims to study law.
Richard C. Lewis
Justin Torner

Darcell Stokes grew up with a keen sense of helping people.

Stokes, who graduated from the University of Iowa in May, was raised in Waterloo, Iowa, by parents who are social workers. She and her siblings regularly helped their parents in myriad ventures—working at soup kitchens, pitching in at polling drives, or volunteering at food pantries.

“My parents were always helping to do something around the community, and that’s where I got a lot of my exposure to that,” says Stokes, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in social justice and plans to attend law school. “I never found it to be bad or tiring. It made me love doing community-service work and made me love helping people, especially when you already don’t have much money and things of that sort, being able to help someone who is in your same situation.

Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice

Iowa students who major in social justice expand their knowledge integrating theory and engagement with real-world field experiences. They approach social justice through the arts, history, literature, comparative religious studies, political science, philosophy, health education, and gender, women’s and sexuality studies.

“I kind of let that lead me throughout my college journey,” Stokes continues. “I struggled for nearly my entire college career trying to figure out what it is that I really wanted to do. Involvement with community-service projects, with both my parents being social workers, it made me want to go into social justice-type work, advocacy work, or just helping people in general.”

Stokes came to Iowa after earning an associate’s degree at Scott Community College in Bettendorf. She wasn’t sure where to focus her academics, and sampled nursing, social work, and education before discovering social justice, a curricular track offered in the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies.

She was hooked from the first class, Introduction to Social Inequality.

“I was like, ‘Oh, all these things I’ve been talking about with my friends, or on social media, they have actual classes about it.’ That kind of did it for me,” Stokes says.

She also began working at the Pride Alliance Center, also called the Pride House, which serves the LGBTQ community on campus. The job, and the center itself, was novel, considering Stokes had minimal exposure to the LGBTQ community stemming from her religiously conservative upbringing.

“I think working at the Pride Alliance Center, or at any of the cultural centers, can definitely help a student move on to their next step, and have the leadership and career skills needed for whatever job they set out to do.”

Darcell Stokes
University of Iowa graduate with bachelor’s degree in social justice

“Being a part of the LGBTQ community, knowing how diverse it is, was very eye-opening,” Stokes says. “What I really learned was how it all broke down what I was taught as quote-unquote ‘normal.’ There is no normal.”

She became a Student Lead at the Pride House, responsible for creating team-building exercises, scheduling cultural and educational programs, and setting employee schedules.

Pride Alliance Center

The vision of the Pride Alliance Center (Pride House) is to support student success and holistic wellness by providing a nurturing and affirming space for Iowa’s LGBTQ students. The Pride House is a space for students to authentically exist and engage with their peers and UI community.

“I think working at the Pride Alliance Center, or at any of the cultural centers, can definitely help a student move on to their next step, and have the leadership and career skills needed for whatever job they set out to do,” Stokes says.

“Darcell has one of the warmest hearts and strongest wills of anyone I have had the opportunity to meet and work with,” says Emma Welch, coordinator of the Pride Alliance Center. “The way she supports her communities is incredible. Darcell meets challenges with poise and grace, and puts her whole self into her work. I have truly enjoyed witnessing her leadership abilities take shape as Student Lead at the Pride House, and I am excited to follow along in her next steps as she continues to change the world.”

Thanks to her experience with the Pride House and in the LGBTQ community, Pride Month, commemorated in June, has special meaning for Stokes.

“It means to me a celebration of everyone in the LGBTQ community,” she says. “It’s also a time to see where intersectionality happens in the LGBTQ community. Being Black and queer, seeing where that overlaps, being Latino and queer, you see where that overlaps. Or just being a person of color or holding multiple identities. Yes, it’s an expression and celebration of the LGBTQ community, but it’s also a celebration for other races, cultures, and groups of people who also identify as queer.”

This fall, Stokes says she will move to Atlanta, home to a vibrant African-American community, and plans to pursue a law degree.

“I don’t regret any part of my journey,” Stokes says. “I learned a lot, and now I know social justice is what I like.”