Art Installation Calls Attention to Lack of Economic Diversity

Lachlan Johnson

Before sunrise on Thursday, September 18th, a group of Whitman students created an unauthorized art installation on the steps of Memorial Building to protest and draw attention to issues of oppression and diversity on Whitman’s campus. The art installation builds on discussions of Whitman being ranked the least economic of 100 small liberal arts colleges in the New York Times.

Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

The installation consists of over 100 milk cartons with “Crème de la Crème” (Cream of the Cream) spray painted on them placed on the front steps of Memorial. A white adhesive substance was poured over the cartons, and fake hundred dollar bills were scattered over them. At the bottom of the steps is a layer of soil spray-painted with Whitman’s motto, the Latin term “per ardua surgo” (Through adversities I rise).

Senior Tyle Schuh, who led the project, emphasizes that there are many problems with Whitman and many possible interpretations of the art installation.

“I think Whitman’s current situation, and for many years, has been profiting and capitalizing on whiteness and wealth,” said Schuh. “In the admissions process Whitman is looking for the best of the best, but really what that’s translating to as we’ve seen in these recent articles is the richest and the whitest.”

Over a dozen students, some of whom wished to remain anonymous, assisted Schuh in preparing and placing the installment. Many students were angry with a perceived lack of action from the administration.

Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

“[I want them] to make the school more economically diverse instead of just saying they are. A lot of the response from the administration seems like they’re trying to make excuses,” said sophomore Brenna Two Bears.

Some of the participants arranging the installation described frustration with what they perceived as a lack of commitment to diversity on the part of the college.

“They put out this image of really wanting this to be a great diverse place, but I don’t think that’s what they really want at all…They need to bring back need-blind admission, need-sensitivity’s not enough.”

Students arranged the art installation independent of any specific campus organization. While they did not alert the administration or security to their intentions, Dean of Student Chuck Cleveland and security officers contacted them requesting that any art installation not endanger health or safety or block entranced to any building. Students responded to these requests by leaving a pathway through the installation to allow access to the front doors of Memorial.

“We wanted the protest to be sporadic, and not be known or necessarily approved by the administration. Because as can be seen, by example, divestment, when they did their protest while it was effective to gain knowledge and facts about the issue, the administration then turned it to fodder to promote Whitman as [liberal and progressive]. We do not want something the administration can sugarcoat,” said Schuh.

The organizers of the installation hope their work will inspire further conversation and action around campus to push for greater diversity.

“Many people are knowledgable, are aware, in some way or form of these issues…it’s a matter of breaking that personal step into the political, to the construction of making our thoughts into activities or actions,” said Schuh.


As of Thursday evening, no official response to the art installation has been issued by Whitman’s administration. However, Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland agreed to speak of his own reaction to the protest.

“I think it’s a really clever and provocative installation. I have to say I personally really liked it,” said Cleveland. “It’s exactly what I expect of Whitman students. Many times when they’re engaging with activism, it’s clever, it’s interesting and it’s appealing.”Cleveland does not expect sanctions to be pressed against students.

“At first I was uncertain how the administration would respond,” said Schuh. “I feel that because of campus-wide support and applauding of the piece the administration had to [stop] their grumbling and replace it with approval. I feel like individual people who are part of the administration may feel these affinities and [be] applauding this piece, but as an administrative force there is some insincerity.”

Cleveland could provide no details of concrete plans for increasing economic diversity at the college beyond suggesting the Board of Trustees may discuss the subject at their meeting in November. However, he expects the installation to stimulate conversation among students, as well as alumni, who will be on campus for alumni weekend over the next three days.


Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.