Product of anti-racism protests emerge

Lachlan Johnson

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Rallies and protests against racism last year led to a series of changes on campus this fall, as the college follows through on promises made to student protesters. Classes have already been canceled for the Power & Privilege Symposium on Feb. 19, and students are in the early stages of organizing the event. In addition, the first mandatory Race & Equity Workshop for first-years was staged on Sunday, Sept. 28.

While these events are set to take place this year, their future beyond that remains in question. The Power & Privilege Symposium is not officially institutionalized by the college, and every year ASWC must again decide to fund and organize the event, and faculty must vote to cancel classes.

The Race & Equity Workshop is also in a precarious position. The workshop was organized by Residence Life as their own response to issues of racism on campus, building off non-mandatory workshops organized by students and staff in previous years. Residence Life is currently gathering student feedback before deciding whether to repeat it in future years.

“We’re trying to make [the symposium] a tradition and a Whitman institution,” said senior Natalie Shaw, the communications and marketing chair for the symposium. “When I took a tour here they talked about the Whitman Undergrad Conference and how they cancel classes for that and how it’s such a special thing that Whitman has. We want Power & Privilege to be the same thing, that’s it’s something Whitman’s pushing as something special that we do.”

The Power & Privilege Symposium is a student-organized event funded by ASWC, which consists of a keynote speaker and a series of workshop on issues of diversity, started in the spring of 2013. Last year, the faculty voted to cancel classes for the day of the Symposium, and the lowest estimates say that at least 800 members of the campus community attended the event. At the end of last semester, the faculty decided to cancel classes again for this year’s symposium.

“Since this is the second year, we have to [be at the top] of our game to make sure it’s just as good if not better than last year so that the school continues to fund us and continues to cancel classes for this event,” said Shaw.

The Symposium’s organizers are still searching for volunteers to help organize the symposium. Anyone may submit a proposal for a workshop, with applications available online between Oct. 27 and Nov. 10.

“One of our goals this year is to have 100-percent student turnout. That’s a huge goal but also one we really want to work to achieve, and a way to do that is to get as many people involved as possible,” said Shaw.

The creation of a mandatory workshop on racism was one of three key demands listed by protesters in a letter to the Board of Trustees last fall. Although discussion occurred among many offices involved with student affairs, the Race & Equity workshop was the result of initiative being taken by Residence Life.

“We’ve been piloting different forms of the Race & Equity Workshop for two years prior to this,” said Andrew Johnson, the interim assistant director of Residence Life and Housing. “This was an adaptation of what we have been doing for two years previously, to try to reach a broader audience and try to do more meaningful work.”

The Race & Equity Workshop was designed by Residence Life staff, who had resident assistants pilot a version of the workshop this summer and give feedback. The content was then adjusted and presented to first-years.

Because the workshop is not officially part of the college’s policy, it is not guaranteed to be repeated in future years. Residence Life is currently gathering feedback and deliberating over whether to make the workshop an annual event. So far most feedback has been positive.

While concrete progress on racial issues was made in the last several years, the campus still has a ways to go.

“I am hopeful. In … my time at Whitman there’s been a lot changes that have been happening,” said senior Mcebo Maziya, who founded the Power & Privilege Symposium two years ago and helped organize the first iteration of what is now the Race & Equity Workshop. “Be that as it may, there’s also a lot we still need to do not only as a student body [but among the] administrative campus body.”

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