Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Regional diversity brings different views

When a Whittie from outside the Northwest tells friends at home that they go to Whitman College, he or she is often met with a confused look.

“People think I go to junior college,” said junior Emma Altman. “You either get people that have never heard of Whitman or people that have a cousin who goes to Whitman … but it’s about 75 percent ˜What is that?'”

Altman is from Woodbridge, Conn., but her experience is similar to that of many other Whitman students who live farther away from Whitman in regions where it’s lesser-known. Over the past decade, more and more students at Whitman have experienced this challenge, as Whitman has recruited more students from outside the Northwest.

Whitman admissions by region

Though Whitman students have traditionally come from Washington, Oregon and California, in recent years the student body’s geographic diversity has greatly expanded.

“We’ve had huge growth in [applications from] … New England, [the Mid-Atlantic states] and the Southeast, and modest growth in California, the Rocky Mountain States and the Southwest. Our applications from Washington, Oregon and Idaho have stayed relatively flat,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tony Cabasco.

The college still receives a significant percentage of its applications from states like California and Washington. However, the proportions are shifting.

According to Cabasco, the college admits around 40 percent of applicants from all geographic regions, but the Office of Admission thinks about students from different areas in different ways.

“If you’re from Arkansas or Michigan or Ohio or New York, we wonder why you want to come to Walla Walla,” said Cabasco. “If it’s a student from the Pacific Northwest, in most cases they probably know Whitman, they probably know somebody who went to Whitman, culturally it’s probably a better fit.”

Cabasco sees the arrival of more geographically diverse students at Whitman is a great trend, though not necessarily one with huge consequences.

“When you get here you probably forget where people are from,” he said. “They’re just Whitman students.”

Social Diversity

While regional diversity doesn’t necessarily affect life at Whitman as much as other types of diversity do, students who were raised in different parts of the United States have different social experiences at the college.

“My friends always joke that I’m ‘East Coast aggressive,'” said sophomore Hannah Snyder, of Montclair, N.J. “I’m pretty clear and upfront about what I need, and I have an expectation from other people that they will be the same. A lot of times I’m frustrated [when] people can be more passive-aggressive or just more subtle.”

For Snyder, stereotypical social differences between the east and west coasts reveal themselves in the nuances of conversations on campus. But Snyder hesitated to explain away these interactions as purely regional differences.

“I think two things that are happening: [My friends] are taking stereotypes from the East Coast and putting that on me, and they’re also looking at my behavior and creating these generalizations, like that must be how they are on the East Coast,” said Snyder.

While these differences in communication styles are likely as much personal as regional, they resonate for many Whitman students from beyond the Northwest.

“Whenever I’m being, in particular, maybe a bit more assertively honest than maybe the typical Whitman student would feel comfortable being, [I say,] ‘Oh, that’s just Connecticut bitch coming out.’ And I’ll say that to people, sort of as an excuse for saying brutally honest things,” said Altman.

These social differences don’t just relate to Whitman culture. Sometimes they reveal larger regional differences between the northwest and other parts of the country.

“I fly into a New York airport. We’ll get onto the highway at midnight and by the time we get home six people have honked at us, one person has flipped us off,” said Altman. “[In Walla Walla,] it’s little things like the people saying hi to you.”

In contrast, junior Kimberly Brown, hailing from a small town in central Texas, has noticed that Whitman is sometimes less friendly than her hometown.

“If I go to the grocery store, it’s a social event. I have to be prepared to say hello to everyone I see because I know everyone I see,” said Brown. “Even if you don’t know somebody, you treat them as if you do.”

For some students, spending time in the Northwest makes them realize things about their hometowns that they hadn’t thought much about until they left.

“The reason I am especially happy at Whitman is that people are very open to new ways of thinking, and at home in North Carolina people are very friendly, but they also don’t want to have anyone try to change their mind,” said first-year Olivia Knox, of Greensboro, N.C.

Brown sees it very differently.

“Being religious means a lot to me, and I feel like that’s a part of me that can’t be expressed here,” she said. “I think people see being Christian as closed-minded, when really, that’s what’s closed-minded … There are some ways I was raised that are more conservative. I don’t think I would be shut down, but I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about some topics here.”

Similarly, Brown has noticed a good deal of stereotyping of the South on campus.

“People tend to get to know me first before they find out I’m from Texas, and then I think they’re so shocked to find out where I’m from,” she said. “People really do have these preconceived ideas of what a Texan would be like, and when they find out who I am, I think they’re surprised because I don’t necessarily fit them. It’s a huge state and clearly not everyone who lives there is going to fit that mold. It’s a huge spectrum, a huge range of political ideologies, etc.”

There is no generalizable Whitman experience for students from the south or from any particular region. Different individuals perceive social life at Whitman differently and sometimes have completely opposite perceptions of the student culture, especially in comparison to their hometowns. For most students from outside of the northwest, though, coming to Whitman requires some sort of social adjustment.

Another challenge for student from other regions is adjusting to the local environment and geography.

“I remember the drive from Pasco to Walla Walla before my SCORE, just being like ‘I don’t know what I did. Maybe this isn’t right for me,'” said Altman. “I never see that much sky at home. I never see that much open space all at once.”

During her time at Whitman, Altman has come to appreciate the rural elements of Walla Walla.

“When I fly to Pasco or Walla Walla, going over this part of the country is really awe-inspiring,” she said. “Sometimes when you fly into Newark, N.J. or something it’s a little depressing. But coming out here is really fantastic. There aren’t really words.”


Editor’s note: This article was revised on Nov. 30, 2023 to replace an original interviewee’s name with the pseudonym Kimberly Brown.

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