Inter(national) Whitties: a Space to Share and Simply Hang Out


Rhett Butler

Adam Rooney, Jhunam Sidhu, and Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz (left to right) the founders and leaders of the new Inter(national) Whitties Club.

Alex Brockman, Feature Editor

While each Whitman student may have the common experiences of the hardships of freshman year, eating in the dining hall and expanding their world view through new classes, each student experiences their time at Whitman differently. The factors that play into these differences are numerous, but among them is the experience of being a domestic versus an international student. Even within the international student community, each individual experience is unique and each individual comes with a unique set of experiences and culture.

Inter(National) Whitties Club Formed as a Space for All

Rhett Butler
Adam Rooney, Jhunam Sidhu, and Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz (left to right) the founders and leaders of the new Inter(national) Whitties Club.

While there are many clubs on campus for certain identities such as the Whitman African Student Association (WASA) or Asian Pacific Islander Association (APIA) to name a few, Whitman had recently been lacking a space for international students to meet.

Additionally, Kyle Martz, Whitman’s International Student and Scholar Advisor notes that the number of international students at Whitman has increased significantly in recent years creating an increasing international student population without one uniting group.

“The international population has grown significantly in recent years, so a big change for everyone on campus and the international students themselves included is that they are much more visible now and they are much more of a real presence. They went from about 4 percent to about 9 percent right now,” Martz said.

Whitman previously had an international student club called the Beyond Borders Club (BBC), but it died out and was inactive till this semester.

Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz, an international student from Mexico, noticed this gap during her freshman year at Whitman.

“Since last year me and my friend Jhunam were talking about how different being an international student was from other experiences other students have and how there wasn’t any group for that here which we thought was weird.”

While Gonzalez Ortiz found a community in the Latinx club, she wished there was another space in which international and domestic students from all over could meet up.

“I tried going to Latinx and stuff like that but it just didn’t click with me because it’s just so different. I think there’s a lot of expectations with being a minority and a minority of color on this campus that some of us in the international student community cannot relate to because we come from a country where we mostly look the same (some of us). So just thinking about differences like that, that one just being one. And suddenly becoming a minority on this campus that in our opinion is misrepresented. We thought it would be cool to have a space where we can just be,” said Gonzalez Ortiz.

With this desire in mind, Gonzalez Ortiz and her friend Jhunam, an international student from Canada began to shape their plan for a new club. After creating a club constitution, they asked Adam Rooney — a domestic student — to help lead the club as a representative of national students.

“Because it’s called inter(national) with the parenthesis around national, I’m the national third of it right now,” Rooney explained.

Rooney, who had been an exchange student in Spain during high school, had always been interested in learning about experiences and cultures from around the world and hoped that the club could be a space for mutual exchange.

“Everybody’s coming from somewhere and that’s what the club’s all about, a space where people can share where they’re coming from no matter if it’s in the US or outside,” Rooney said.

Varied and Unique Experiences:

In her experience at Whitman Gonzalez Ortiz found that as much as Whitman advertised the presence of international students from a wide variety of countries, many students did not even know she was an international student.

“We were also thinking about at commencement when they say ‘we have x number of international students from all of these countries’ but that doesn’t really matter because nobody really knows that we are international students and I think some people are afraid to ask us where we are from sometimes because of all the trickiness of the situation,” Gonzalez Ortiz said.

Gonzalez Ortiz said that she loves to share with others about her country and is happy when others ask. She is hopeful that the new Inter(national) Whitties club will be a space where people can share with others.

“Most of us love to talk about our countries and we don’t really get to do that anywhere, so we were hoping our club could be the place where national and international students could get to know each other,” said Gonzalez Ortiz.

Although there is sometimes a hesitancy to ask questions, Asare Buahin a junior from Ghana emphasized that he believes there is not a divide between international and national students at Whitman.

“I do think that the difficulty that international students face navigating a new culture paired with the novelty national students face with attempting to understand international students is misconstrued as a divide,” Buahin explained.

Both Gonzalez Ortiz and Buahin hope that this club which recently started this semester will be a space for both international and domestic students to get to know each other and share their cultures and experiences.

Gonzalez Ortiz emphasized that she believes this mutual exchange through asking questions and sharing stories is a great way to get to know international students.

”A lot of international students feel like they can’t make real connections with students who are domestic a lot of the time or its harder because they don’t understand where were coming from or they don’t know anything about our countries or something. So just being open to learning and not being afraid to ask questions and I think part of that work comes from us too, that’s why we’re doing the club,” Gonzalez Ortiz explained.

Martz also emphasized that while it easy to focus on differences, it is important to recognize that all students at Whitman are simply human with a wide range of experiences, similarities and differences.

“Have an understanding that they are human just like you are human. They have a whole world of things to them that are completely normal and unremarkable and just as well as things that they’ll find strange and different and odd. Just as I would, or you would, or anyone else would. We are all informed by our own backgrounds so I would remember that they’re on the same spectrum of what is normal and what is not, it just might not look quite like yours because of where they’re coming from,” Martz said.

But with differences in experiences comes a need to create spaces within classes and residence life that is accessible for people from all backgrounds.

“In the classroom there’s a lot of other layers we have to think about when were here. In classroom or residence life setting there’s approaches that assume that we know things that we sometimes don’t. Or on the contrary assume that we don’t know anything. And that’s tricky because every experience within us is so different too but sometimes professors will say like ‘in our culture’ or just stuff like that don’t include all students. Or making the residence life theme ‘The Office’ and I didn’t know what that was or stuff like that to make sure everyone is on the same page inside and outside the classroom,” Gonzalez Ortiz explained.

Inter(national) Whitties is aimed to be a club where all students — international or domestic — can get to know each other and share their own experiences on the same page.

“I’m hoping some random people come. That would be exciting! Like someone I don’t know and who don’t know other people, if people can just show up that would be really cool,” said Rooney.

Looking towards the future, the club would like to host an international fair, similar to an event the previous BBC club had put on. But most of all the club leaders are hoping to create a place for friendships to organically grow through mutual exchange.

Gonzalez Ortiz emphasized this point by saying: “We don’t want to make it only international students get together and complain. No, lets watch a movie together. You just get to know people and not making the focus ‘Hi I’m from Mexico. Ask me about it. But ‘Hi! My name is Nadyieli. Get to know me.’ I think like that organically I get to learn more about you and you get to learn more about me so the space is open to everyone.”