Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Meg and College: a tale of two Whitmans

According to NameStatistics.com, which obtains its information from the U.S. Census, only 0.007 percent of Americans have the last name Whitman. Yet that fraction of a percent is significant enough to affect perceptions about Whitman College’s namesake. Whitties often find themselves demystifying their college’s identity to those who mistake Whitman as Whittier College or Whitworth University, or believe the name is taken from Walt Whitman. More recently,Whitman students who call California home have the new task of differentiating their school’s identity from gubernatorial candidate Margaret “Meg” Whitman.

Meg Whitman is the Republican candidate for governor of California and former CEO of eBay. She now holds the record at $119 million for the largest personal spending on a U.S. political campaign. As evidence of her political prowess, Whitman, who graduated from Princeton University in 1977, has also donated enough money for one of Princeton’s six residential colleges to assume her namesake. The Princeton campus, also known as Whitman College, has been the subject of conversations between President George Bridges and Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman.

In the fall of 2009, 15.4 percent of Whitman students were residents of California–a number which increases with each incoming class. When senior John Callow and first-year Noah Teller, two California residents, were asked if Meg Whitman’s candidacy affected perceptions of Whitman College in their home state, both responded with bewildered looks.

“Anyone who knows enough about colleges or politics should know that the Whitman campaign and Whitman College are very different institutions,” said Teller.

Callow agreed, and added that he wasn’t sure if Meg Whitman’s campaign will even be important for the people who attend or want to learn about Whitman College.

Philip “PJ” Petrone, associate director of admissions in the California office, offers a different perspective.

“I just had a student ask me the other day if Meg Whitman was associated with us in any way,” he said. “This was the first time, though. I think people see it as a coincidence–Meg being a Republican and Whitman being in a more liberal location of the country and having more of a liberal bend on campus.”

As one of the over 7,000 higher educational institutions in the U.S. recognized by the National Center for Educational Statistics, Whitman faces the challenge of developing a name for itself distinct from all the other small liberal arts colleges. These efforts, however, are not always reflected by the general populous.

“People never know where Whitman College’s name comes from,” said junior Emma O’Rourke-Powell. “If you Google ‘Whitman’ so many different topics show up.”

O’Rourke-Powell, who is a resident of California, recounted with a chuckle that her aunt now remembers which college is in Walla Walla by associating the college name with the looming influence of Meg Whitman.

As Petrone suggests, Meg Whitman’s conservative platform seems to contrast the college’s left-of-center political leanings. This contrast, however, is carried out in nationwide statistics. According to a recent Gallup poll, college students as a demographic appear unlikely to support Meg Whitman’s campaign. This poll noted that 55 percent of young adults (ages 18-29) are instead more likely to support democratic candidates–an increase of 9 percentage points since August.

Whether or not this coincidental association of Whitman College’s name with Meg Whitman will outlast the election cycle likely depends on the result of the California gubernatorial election, which takes place Nov. 2.

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    David ValdezOct 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    It may be helpful to keep in mind that the (Meg) “Whitman College” at Princeton is essentially a dormitory complex– at that that school.