Justin Gaffney (left), a sophomore civil engineering major and Rafa Polanco (right), a sophomore nursing major, make up the DJ DeSmet duo.

Music unites everyone. No matter what our stories are, a good song can bring even the most unlikely people together. It is what helps make our days brighter. That’s what these two sophomores from DeSmet Hall aim to bring to campus this year.

DJ DeSmet is a time-honored tradition on Gonzaga’s campus. Each year, a pair of freshmen or sophomores are selected via a pseudo-interview process from the previous DJ DeSmet to take up the mantle the following year.

“It’s sort of something that’s been going on for a long time. Each year, people bring a receiver and two speakers and we try to play some music as people are walking by,” said Rafa Polanco, one half of this year’s DJ DeSmet.

Justin Gaffney, a sophomore civil engineering major, and Polanco, a sophomore nursing major, make up DJ DeSmet for the 2020-2021 school year. They ended up receiving the position through their connection to last year’s DJ DeSmet.

Prior to their roles, Gaffney and Polanco had very different experiences with music.

"When I came to college last year, I did not know a thing about music,” Polanco said. “My music taste was so bad. I was listening to the most basic stuff and then Justin and one of our other friends just really put me on.”

In contrast, Gaffney had a much more grounded experience with music. Growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, he always loved going to concerts. He cites his mother as a strong influence on his music taste, enjoying good tunes with her in the car. 

Both of them love playing surf rock and alternative rock music most, with a goal of bringing positivity and a movie-mood to campus.

“We try to keep it upbeat,” Gaffney said. “Positive. Make people feel like they’re in a coming-of-age movie as they’re walking by because college is hard. Every day is stressful. Anything we can do to just brighten days and maybe introduce people to some music they didn’t know before.”

Being on campus, DJ DeSmet will gladly accept requests from interested inquirers, granted they’re campus appropriate. Be it a formal request, a recommendation in passing conversation or even a note under the door, the DJ duo are always open to expanding their musical palette. 

Every year, new DJ DeSmets will try to put their own twist on the role. This year, the two have brought study music to the table.

“There’s times when it’s 7 p.m. on Thursday night and we’ll make a playlist specific to study music — just calm stuff, and we’ll throw that on so that if there’s someone out there doing homework, they can jam to that,” Polanco said.

Things look different for everyone, given the ongoing pandemic. The stress of these days has further encouraged the two of them to a commitment of good energy.

“It all comes back to what we’re trying to do — in brightening people’s day because there’s times where COVID has ruined so much,” Polanco said. “It took away part of our freshman year. It took away part of people’s senior years. It’s affected college students quite a bit.”

This sensitivity to the now has steered them away from playing moody or sad music, focusing on upbeat bops.

Each of them have different favorite aspects of their job. For Polanco, it’s about sharing music and brightening other people’s days. For Gaffney, it’s the mystery.

“I kind of like how you’re almost like a figure,” Gaffney said. “Everyone kind of knows what it is, but not a lot of people know that it’s us. It’s kind of mysterious in a way, and it’s kind of cool when you tell somebody and they’re like, ‘Ooooh that’s you!’ There’s a bit of lore to it. I really like that.”

You can catch them blasting music from their room in DeSmet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays around 11:50 a.m. or during the evening playing chill study tunes. It’s good vibes for everyone.

“We’re just two guys living in DeSmet, playing music out our window,” Polanco said. “At base level, it's such a simple thing, but hopefully it’s boosted some people’s days.

Alexander Prevost is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @alexanderprvst.

Alexander Prevost is a staff writer for the Gonzaga Bulletin. He is passionate about writing, politics, and music.

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