Whitman and Walla Walla Interactions Take Good and Bad

Sara Platnick

Current interactions between Whitman College and the greater Walla Walla community are generally positive. However, recent incidents and events show both a positive and negative side to Whitman’s relationship with the community.

Such examples of positive interactions between Whitman and Walla Walla are Make a Difference Day, the variety of community service opportunities at Whitman that directly impact Walla Walla, and the events and programs that Whitman hosts for the community.

On Oct. 3, over 70 members of the Whitman community gathered together during Make a Difference Day and partnered with 17 different community organizations to engage with the community and help with various projects.

“Service events like Make a Difference day are a great way for students to become introduced to a community organization or individual with whom they were not previously connected.  Through that service, students may discover an interest in furthering that connection and work,” said Community Service Coordinator Abby Juhasz in an email to The Pioneer.

Juhasz also appreciates the Make a Difference Day because it allows students to work on something that a community organization prioritizes and shows their willingness to support the organization’s values.

“It is important to understand their organization’s mission and to let them identify the projects and areas in which they would like for Whitman to engage.  It can be detrimental to the relationship to approach them with the presumption that ‘we know best’ and that ‘we can fix all the problems,’” said Juhasz.  

On-campus student groups also work closely with the community in a positive setting. Some examples include Greek organizations fundraising for local groups, sports teams hosting camps or activities for local kids and the year-long programs hosted through the Student Engagement Center, such as the mentorship program or Adopt-a-Grandparent.

“We are proud that Whitman has intentionally structured many ways for students to deepen their involvement in Walla Walla based on their academic and professional interests and so we often hear about students who volunteer on an occasion like Made A Difference Day and they really enjoy the people they meet,” said Noah Leavitt, Associate Dean of Student Engagement, in an email to The Pioneer.

However, on Oct. 3, the same day as Make a Difference Day, students had a more negative experience with community members. At an off-campus party, Queer Beer, an altercation between students and community members occurred when two non-Whitman students got into a fight and police were called. Even though no Whitman students were arrested, the event was hosted for Whitman students, and some students were harmed when attempting to break up the altercation.

Dean of Students Charles Cleveland recommends that for future events, students be more conscious and careful of what they post on social media sites. The address for Queer Beer was posted both on Facebook and Yik Yak, which Cleveland believes allowed for it to become a more public event.

“If you put anything out on social media … people share this, and so once that gets out, even though you may want off-campus residents, or a certain group [to come], once you put it out there you have no control over who shows up, and so my advice is don’t put it out on social media. And I think that’s clearly what happened in that case,” said Cleveland.  

Photo by Karissa Hampson

Some other recent negative interactions with Whitman students and community members are the drive-by harassment cases, which have been ongoing for years but have come to the attention of the school recently because of reports made through the online whitman.edu/assist tool.

In response to the reports made through the program, the school has worked with both the Whitman Community and the Walla Walla Police Department to address the issues. Cleveland is also encouraging students to be vigilant in helping address these problems.

Cleveland recommends that if any member of the Whitman community is involved in any sort of harassment or unsafe situation that they report the event to the school so that they may address it. He also recommends that students be observant at all times, even as a bystander, so that the school can have more information about the events and to better fix the problems.

Cleveland understands that overall, the interactions between Whitman and Walla Walla are positive, but that should not prevent students from taking safety precautions.

“People have to understand that there’s all sorts of people in this world and not everyone likes Whitman students. Our relationships with the community overall are excellent. Whitman and Whitman students contribute a lot of time to the community; but there’s also some folks that don’t like us, and so we have to be cognizant of that and be safe in what we do,” said Cleveland.