Whitman Teaches The Movement Begins Third Year

Sarah Cornett

Photo by Marra Clay

Whitman Teaches the Movement launched its third year on Monday, Jan. 27 with two kick-off events: a panel of educators sharing experiences in teaching the Civil Rights Movement and a guest lecture by Kate Shuster of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The two events were organized by the Student Engagement Center. In attendance were students and 10 representatives from other colleges and universities interested in learning more about Whitman Teaches the Movement, a program which sends Whitman students to local public schools to teach the Civil Rights Movement.

The panel was moderated by Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt, who posed questions to President George Bridges, Shuster, Walla Walla Public Schools Superintendent Mick Miller and Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Doug Johnson. They discussed their own personal experiences educating students about Civil Rights and the present awareness of diversity in their communities.

“I think there’s a strong awareness of other cultures and ethnicities in our schools and communities, but not as much acceptance,” said Miller, representing a district whose student population is 41 percent Hispanic.

Johnson, who comes from the perspective of a fairly non-diverse community, stated in the panel that Dayton’s population is 93 percent white.

“We are a small community of mostly white farmers. There are a lot of things they’re missing on a personal level about the Civil Rights Movement, and I hope this connection with Whitman will engage with that,” he said.

Most of the attendees of the panel were Whitman students involved with Whitman Teaches the Movement. The opportunity to get involved with the Walla Walla community is a valuable one, according to Bridges, especially when the work is related to education.

“We believe we have a responsibility to serve Whitman students and families as well as the Walla Walla Valley,” Bridges said. “In order to achieve that, we have to reach out, and we have to serve.”

Photo by Marra Clay

During the event, Shuster delivered a talk entitled “Why the Movement Matters: Learning from America’s Civil Rights Struggles.” She focused on the relevance of Civil Rights issues today, and the transformative power of education in shaping the way students think about diversity and justice.

She also refuted preconceptions and generalities about the Civil Rights Movement, arguing that the movement was not the work of a few well-known activists alone.

“If we think about it as collective action, if we think about it as a movement, then we have to recognize the stories of people like Fannie Lou Hamer … [although] we don’t necessarily know her name. We don’t think about the party; we don’t think about the structural interaction between the parties at the convention,” she said.

Whitman Teaches the Movement began after Walla Walla received less-than-satisfactory results on proficiency tests given by the SPLC analyzing public school students’  knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. Whitman partnered with Shuster and the SPLC in order to design a program where Whitman students visit local schools and educate students about Civil Rights. One of the most beneficial aspects of the program, according to senior and Whitman Teaches the Movement Co-Coordinator Allison Bolgiano, is that it partners students with other students.

“Whitman Teaches the Movement is unique because it helps both college students and grade school students learn about the Civil Rights Movement, a tremendously important and inspiring social movement that unfortunately many of us only know the basics of,” she said.

The two public kick-off events served to create fervor for the beginning of a new year for Whitman Teaches the Movement, a program successful enough that students come back to it each year for the powerful experience.

“[Civil Rights education] is not an easy task,” said junior Tim Reed, who is participating in the program for the second year. “I think we achieved something last year, and I’m not quite sure what, but there was something there. And that’s why I was excited to come back this year.”