Kaitie Dong ‘18 on advocacy, organizing and centering marginalized voices

Apichaya Jiracharoenying, Podcast Reporter

On this week’s episode of the Whitman Wire Podcast, reporter Apichaya Jiracharoenying spoke with Kaitie Dong ’18 to learn about her work with OneAmerica, an immigrant and refugee advocacy organization. Dong’s focus on community investment and education began during her time at Whitman, and she sees her career as an extension of that work.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

The Wire: What is your job right now?

Kaitie Dong: My title is a little complicated, but it is leadership development and education manager at OneAmerica.

The Wire: What are you doing?

KD: Yeah, so I’ve been at OneAmerica for three and a half years now. OneAmerica is one of the largest immigrant and refugee rights organizations [in Washington State]. We do work on democracy reform, immigration reform, and I personally work a lot on education reform.

Right now is a really exciting time. We are in the Washington state legislative session…right now. I’ve been working on this bill, HB 1153, a bill that would increase language access services in K-12 schools in Washington with another organization named Open Doors for Multicultural Families.

[Open Doors] originally created the bill, and we, in the past year and a half, saw the need for language access also in the communities that we worked with. So we’ve been partnering together a lot this past year…really ensuring that our state representatives and state senators are aware of the bill. 

The Wire: What do you like about your job?

KD: There’s a lot of things that I do love about my work. A big reason why I got into this work is because I grew up in south Seattle and am the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants. The issues and communities that we work with are very near and dear to my heart. I really see my family and also people that I care about. 

Part of this bill that I’m working on [highlights that] it’s actually such an asset to be multilingual. I am actually not multilingual because I chose not to speak Mandarin growing up, which is something that I really regret. 

This bill particularly is about ensuring that all families, [including] English Language Learning (ELL) families and families with disabilities can be a part of their students’ education through quality interpretation services.

The Wire: Do you think that Whitman has prepared you for this job?

KD: Yes. And also there’s some things that you just can’t really anticipate. A lot of this job is learning through experience and on the go. I’ve learned from Whitman that critical thinking that everyone’s talking about.

The Wire: I think it’s very meaningful [work], and I believe that many listeners might be interested in doing the same thing you do. Do you have any recommendations [for students interested in this work]? 

KD: Come join us! [That work] could be at OneAmerica, but I think the heart of our work is really centering marginalized voices and that’s a big part of my personal mission. 

I don’t want to speak for people. That’s not my job. It is not my responsibility nor something that I feel I should take on [because people should be] speaking for themselves and telling their own stories. 

A big reason why I got into this work is because of on-campus organizing at Whitman. I was a co-director of the Power and Privilege Symposium–I started in one of the committees and helped out and showed up where I could.

I think that there are so many different entry points to identifying an issue that you see and that you’re passionate about. How does that connect to your own life? What is your stake in it? Okay. What can you do about it? What work is already being done about it? And don’t be intimidated [by] the jargon or people who are more experienced because everyone starts somewhere.

What I often tell people is that you can learn the skills, you can do the things. Those are very teachable, but you can’t teach someone the edge that community organizers have.

The Wire: Where do you see yourself in the future? Do you see yourself still doing this kind of work or do you want to try something new?

KD: I’m not sure what the future looks like. One thing that has remained true since I started organizing on campus [is my commitment to] centering the voices of marginalized communities and doing what I can to invest in their leadership development and self-advocacy…. I’m not entirely sure what that will look like, but that is a north star that really grounds me.

Listen to the rest of Apichaya’s interview and learn more about Dong’s work with OneAmerica in this week’s episode of the Whitman Wire Podcast, releasing Friday, April 15 at 11 a.m. Full episodes of the podcast can be found here.    

Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, HB 1153 was passed by the Washington State legislature at the end of the 2022 session and became law.