Whitman Progressives Spark Political Dialogue

Lorah Steichen

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Illustration by Kels Lund.

On Sunday, Sept. 8, Whitman students and members of the Walla Walla community gathered at the intersection of 1st Avenue and Main Street to protest proposed American military action in Syria.

Among students represented were members of one of Whitman’s newest student clubs: The Campus Progressives. Senior Politics and Philosophy double major Fernando Medina-Corey started the club over the summer, hoping to increase nonpartisan political engagement and promote political critical thinking on campus.

“One thing that I definitely wanted to see was consistent political engagement from campus, and I hadn’t really been seeing that,” said Medina-Corey.

Although there are several specific political student groups on campus, more generalized political clubs have not persisted. According to Medina-Corey, clubs such as the Campus Conservatives and Young Democrats have existed in recent memory, but have not been recognized by ASWC for more than a semester or two surrounding a presidential election.

“As a club anyway, [Campus Progressives] is very specifically meant to be nonpartisan because at least in my personal experience, all the partisan clubs I’ve seen have come and gone really quickly,” said Medina-Corey. “[These clubs] only last around election cycles and only seem to be focused on election cycles and candidates and that sort of thing.”

Sophomore club member Jacqueline Rees-Mikula echoed these sentiments.

“By progressive, we mean really anyone who wants to make progress in politics or in society, so [the club] ranges in the political spectrum. It’s not affiliated with any party,” she said.

Rather than pushing a party-affiliated political agenda, the Campus Progressives Constitution states that the club will educate, advocate and mobilize. The club plans not only to educate students on a variety of issues, but also to foster skills that pertain to work in public policy and nonprofits. The club hopes to mobilize the campus itself through events aimed at getting more students engaged and involved, and through potential partnerships with other student groups.

It was these qualities that attracted junior Harrison Wills, a recent transfer student from Santa Monica Community College, to the club.

“I think the main thing is that [the club] was open and kind of unaffiliated, kind of independent I’d say. Open, independent and rooted in critical thinking and not partisan or party lines,” said Wills.

Through this new club, Medina-Corey hopes that the political culture at Whitman will become more critical and less passive.

“The thing I guess that troubles me the most about campus is stagnation of opinion around democratic policies,” he said.

The Campus Progressives have already begun working to engage students politically at Whitman. In addition to participating in the protest against military action in Syria, members of the club have been tabling around campus to provide students with contact information for their local congressional representatives. The club hopes that students will not only contact representatives in regards to the Syrian conflict, but will also have the tools to take similar action on issues in the future.

Student interest in some of these efforts has reassured club members like Wills.

“I’m actually relieved and feel hopeful because when we tabled for contact your representatives, the response was incredible,” he said. “I think the idea that [Whitman students] don’t care is not true. I think the idea that we are not engaged is not true. Could we be more? Of course. But generally speaking we have a community here that cares. And I think that it’s up to some student organizations to kind of be creative and create incentives to engage.”

Campus Progressives Club meets weekly on Sundays at 1 p.m. in Reid G02.

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