Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Arts for Housing Justice Centers Creativity as a Source of Community

With rising costs of living and inflation rates sharply increasing, major cities like Portland and Seattle have noted stark spikes in the number of houseless people within city limits. Although Walla Walla is considerably more rural than the major metropolitan areas featured on the news, it too has faced similar challenges. Many Whitman students feel divorced from the city at large, and feel distanced from the issues that impact the Walla Walla community beyond campus. Furthermore, the overlapping socio-economic systems of oppression that contribute to houselessness can easily feel daunting for students to confront.

To remedy these issues, Arts for Housing Justice was created with funding from the Ben Rabinowitz Award. First awarded in 2011, the Rabinowitz Award encourages student leaders to submit proposals for projects that encourage compassion in politics or medicine and enrich the campus community. Recipients are awarded grant money to assist in the execution of their projects. Through Arts for Housing Justice, junior Eva Hauksdottir-Neill hopes to break down common barriers to action and allyship, centering connection through creativity as a means of reducing barriers between Whitties and Walla Walla at large. 

“We’re hoping to foster that connection and kinda pop the Whitman bubble. Other organizations and projects on campus do that too, but with this it’s more breaking a class difference that can occur,” Hauksdottir-Neill said. “We’re at a private college … [and it’s important to] break that bubble of class barriers and difference.”

In collaboration with the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless, Arts for Housing Justice will bring students and art supplies to the shelter community weekly, supporting the preexisting programs and support networks crafted by local organizations. 

Nancy Forsthoefel, a research specialist at Whitman and the Volunteer Coordinator for the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless, explained how art is a critical tool for breaking stigma in a fun and engaging way. 

“People are very creative [in the shelter community]. When Eva came to the sleep center to interview some people, she found a good deal of interest in engaging in art projects and lots of ideas for the different kinds of things they’d be interested in doing,” Forsthoefel said. “There’s lots of good there. Being creative feels good and it takes your mind off of troubles and releases anxiety and stress. It’s something to do and something to be proud of after you’ve done it.” 

Brooke Bouchey, a Peer Support Counselor working for the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless, explained how engaging Whitman students in the alliance’s work is particularly crucial. 

“[I’m excited to see] folks coming from Whitman to really connect and build relationships with these folks, to hear stories about where they’ve been and how they’ve come to be where they are. I know that for me at least … it just really grounds me and I’m hoping that’s what we’re able to bring to Whitman students,” Bouchey said.

Hauksdottir-Neill agreed, explaining that face-to-face connection is one of the best ways to organically grow compassion. 

“One of the best ways to [reduce stigma] is to actually get to know folks who are in that situation and realize that ‘hey, these people are just people,’” Hauksdottir-Neill said.

For Bouchey, this type of mutual learning and respect can send a critical message to both students and residents of the shelter community. 

“[It is important to be] showing the residents that are there that they are welcome, they are embraced, and that people are trying to learn from them and therefore they are valued,” Bouchey said. 

For Hauksdottir-Neill, art is the perfect medium to bring about both self reflection and communal interaction. She plans to spend the Ben Rabinowitz Award funding on materials ranging from paints to beads, giving program participants the opportunity to experiment in a new medium each week. 

After hosting its volunteer orientation Sept. 15, Arts for Housing Justice is ready to grow campus involvement. Students who are interested in joining can email Hauksdottir-Neill to be added to the listserv and get notifications about upcoming volunteer opportunities. 

By engaging in an artistic mode of advocacy, Arts for Housing Justice marks the beginning of new opportunities for Whitties to engage with the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless to expand their understanding of community and connection.

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