Students protest lack of economic diversity over alumni weekend

Lachlan Johnson

Protests against the lack of socioeconomic diversity on campus continued throughout the day on Saturday, as students worked to alert alumni visiting campus of the lack of socioeconomic diversity at the college.

The first action of the day took place when First Generation & Working Class students distributed pamphlets explaining theirs goals and what different members of the Whitman community could do to take action.

Sophomore Gillian Gray hands out pamphlets with FGWC on Saturday. Photo by Marra Clay.
Sophomore Gillian Gray hands out pamphlets with FGWC on Saturday. Photo by Marra Clay.

Students hoped to be able to distribute the pamphlets during the March of the Classes, when alumni marched across campus. While this was scheduled to begin at 10:30, its time was shifted forward significantly, and activists only managed to catch up when it reached its final destination at Cordiner Hall.

Alumni’s responses to fliers varied, with many expressing support for students and frustration at the lack of diversity on campus.

“It think [the administration has] done a better job with this than with some other things issues that have come up over the last year, I think they’ve been more proactive about posting comments and sharing e-mails, but saying you’re going to do something and then actually doing it is very different and I’m a believer in action. We need to see the change, we need to see steps taken,” said Samantha Howell ’04.

Other alumni feel socioeconomic diversity was not a serious problem, and other schools faced the same challenge. Some felt there were other problems the college needs to address.

“I think the solution, in all seriousness, is the school has to find a way to cut the cost [of tuition] by ten grand,” said Steve Enfield ’83. “If they don’t learn how to cut their cost, they’re going to implode, as are many other colleges, because the price-tag for college has gotten way too high to be affordable.”

Protesters feel the college’s response to the frustration of students, staff, faculty and alumni has been inadequate. The administration has put forward several statements over the last several days, claiming to remain committed to diversity and offering statistics which contest whether Whitman is less diverse than other schools. While the administration and Board of Trustees may consider changes in the coming months, no concrete policies have been announced thus far.


Protests continued Saturday afternoon, as a group of students visited alumni luncheons and approached groups of alumni to perform a skit and offer cupcakes. Sophomore Gus Coats, dressed as Queen Marie Antoinette of 18th century France, sarcastically portrayed the administration’s response to anger among students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Students participating in a performance protest during a luncheon on Saturday.
Students participating in a performance protest during a luncheon on Saturday. Photo by Marra Clay.

After introducing himself as the Queen, Coats reassured alumni to not be concerned about the college’s lack of diversity as someone was thinking about considering a solution sometime in the indefinite future.  He then went on to list all the categories Whitman does not discriminate against, noting that class is not on the list. This is in reference to the college not having a need-blind admissions policy. While many other colleges do not consider students’ wealth when deciding on admissions, Whitman takes into consideration whether students would be able to pay without significant financial aid, and at times chooses not to admit those with less financial resources.

“This is [to address] the administration’s response, or lack of response, so far,” said Coats. “We want a response [to lack of diveristy] that’s more than just trying to save face, because Whitman’s more than just a brand.”

Protesters expressed anger at what they perceive as the administration’s dismissive attitude towards student protest. They felt the college’s responses have been aimed at handling the college’s publicity and limiting damage to public relations, instead of actually admitting to a problem with diversity and taking action to fix it. They hoped the ridiculousness of their actions would help start conversations between students and alumni about what can be done to create substantive change.

“We’re poking fun at it to show how it’s not hard or scary to discuss,” said Coats. “We need to be direct and establish that students are thinking about this…We aim to establish a connection between students and alumni.”


Correction: This post has been updated to fix the misspelling of Cordiner Hall.

Originally, this article incorrectly attributed the quote by Samantha Howell, ’04, to Annie Batie, ’04.