Whitman College partners with Walla Walla Penitentiary

Kyle Seasly

Last week, the Whitman campus was shaken by a New York Times’ article that ranked Whitman as the least economically diverse college in a group of more than 90 schools. Though the ranking has drawn criticism, with some argument that it isn’t a fair assessment as it fails to incorporate some other factors, the ranking still holds some truth for many students who agree that Whitman is lacking in diversity.

School officials issued two memos in response. The first memo defends the college as an institution that strives to create diversity on campus and assist those who need financial assistance. The second, issued by the Board of Trustees in an unusually quick manner, promotes a novel plan that will save the college money and allow for more financial support for students as a result.

The memo that was released to the students of Whitman College last Friday states that the college will “terminate food services with Bon Appétit” and will instead “contract the prepackaged food suppliers that the Washington State Penitentiary partners with.”

Dick Simmons, the Head Financial Planner for the college, believes his plan “will cut costs tremendously. Food is already being shipped to the Walla Walla area for the Penitentiary, and so contractors have agreed to reduced costs.”

In fact, the switch is expected to save as much as 12 million dollars a year as food production is outsourced to a center in Pasco instead of being housed at the college.

The Jewett and Prentiss Dining Halls will also close, and all meals will be served in Lyman.

“We know that Lyman is a smaller dining hall, but we plan on changing dinner hours to 3:30 to 7:00 to accommodate more students,” said Simmons.

School officials have also suggested that the soon-to-be empty kitchens can be used for student housing, with the possibility of converting the Jewett and Prentiss walk-in-freezers to special interest houses.

“In an effort to promote diversity, Whitman is considering opening both a Nordic and a Siberian special interest house in the walk-in freezers,” said Clydesburg Drake, the Chair of the Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees’ big plans have been met with mixed student response, however.

Students have been up in arms over the memo, which inspired the creation a Facebook page and a Twitter movement with the hashtag #bonapporbust. Sophomore Maggie Millman has led the movement, calling on students to refuse to let the college take away their gluten-free food options and endless soft-serve ice cream.

Junior Mark Johnson has also spoken out.

“We need honest discussions about diversity on campus,” he said. “Eating lukewarm turkey tetrazzini mash out of a disposable plastic dish won’t solve anything.”

Other students, like junior John Capriola, are indifferent to the situation. Capriola understands that the college “faces large costs and as long as they have grilled cheese, it’s all good, man.”

The school is also working to accommodate students’ wishes, and although there will be no more Prentiss Pizza Fridays, the school has promised that they will have new Beef Stew Sundays, which are very popular in the nearby penitentiary.

Finally, officials discussed replacing all grass with cement, which would cut water bills and prevent students from burying shanks in the fields.

“At the end of the day, a grilled cheese is still a grilled cheese no matter who cooks it,” said Capriola, after all.