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Social activist groups host dessert, discussion

Andy Monserud

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Student organizations Whitman Teaches the Movement (WTTM) and Students for Education Reform (SFER) hosted a discussion of civil rights and social justice over ice cream on Wednesday afternoon. The event sought to foster conversations about social justice issues as well as to serve as a recruiting push for both groups.

The event consisted of three presentations and discussions covering discrimination in education, the prison system and gender issues. Its attendance of 19 people, including organizers and volunteers, fell short of organizers’ projections of around 30 attendees.

Whitman Teaches the Movement was founded in 2011 following a Southern Poverty Law Center report on national civil rights education that found that less than 2 percent of American high school students could correctly answer a question about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended “separate but equal” public school systems.

Originally created as a part of the Student Engagement Center by Associate Dean for Student Engagement Noah Leavitt and then-Community Service Coordinator Kelsie Butts, WTTM is now run by senior Sophie Schouboe with the support of the Community Service Office. It sends student volunteers into local classrooms around the Walla Walla area to teach curriculum about the civil rights movement and other social justice issues. It most recently added curriculum about Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ rights movement.

“The formatting of the program has been changing and growing as we’ve figured out what does and doesn’t work,” said Schouboe. “So we’re going to see what does and doesn’t work this year and kind of adapt it for next year.”

WTTM holds an event for the entirety of campus each year, but this is the first time they have collaborated with Students for Education Reform.

“We usually do some kind of event that’s not teaching,” said Schouboe. “Last year it was a conference, the year before that it was a teacher panel on civil rights in various disciplines, and we had teachers present and students came. This year I wanted to focus to be on current issues, so this is our event both for recruiting and getting out the names of WTTM and SFER.”

Students for Education Reform was founded in 2012 with the more general mission of bringing together students interested in education and the policy surrounding it.

“SFER is most broadly, in my opinion, students’ best outlet to engage more in topics of education or education reform or explore their interest in the field in any extracurricular way at Whitman,” said junior Michael Augustine, the organization’s head. “Because there isn’t an education minor anymore, there are few classes that directly target education in the K-12 context, and while there are many volunteer opportunities, there isn’t really a centralized place for students to discuss topics of education.”

The two groups’ decision to work together on an event was facilitated by shared membership and purpose.

“The two groups have overlapping interests, and therefore overlapping people within our school,” said Schouboe. “It’s more manpower, more brain power, all of that stuff.”

Augustine hopes that the collaboration will encourage more members of each group to become involved in other’s work.

“I think who we’re targeting as club members are people who are interested in education policy or teaching specifically,” he said of SFER. “This is a perfect partnership, and Whitman Teaches the Movement is a perfect outlet for our club members or people outside the club to try standing in front of a group of students and delivering material.”

Sophomore Edward Ferguson, a regular volunteer with WTTM who co-led the discussion of discrimination in prisons, sees the event as a route to progress in its own right.

“We’re hoping to hear from the people that come to the event because they’re sort of self-selecting, and if they’re there they’re probably pretty interested in this stuff, or at least they want to learn about it,” said Ferguson. “So we’re hoping to hear from people and get some ideas from people, because these movements only really progress when people come together and talk about it. So what we’re doing right now is a part of the movement itself, not just learning about it.”

The groups plan to release a newsletter documenting the event to serve as information on and advertisement for both groups. While precise plans for the newsletter have yet to be ironed out, Augustine has high hopes.

“I think people will see what the program is about in a much more concrete way than any email or advertisement could do,” he said. “I think having a concrete newsletter can show students at the high schools we’re going to, teachers that will be hosting us, Whitman community members, and then obviously students who are considering volunteering … what topics and what excitement that the students who are engaged in the program will bring.”+

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Whitman news since 1896
Social activist groups host dessert, discussion