Volunteers to teach civil rights history to Walla Walla students


Cherokee Washington ’17 at the Whitman Teaches Movement table. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

Georgia Lyon

Cherokee Washington '17 at the Whitman Teaches Movement table. Photo by Natalie Mutter.
Cherokee Washington ’17 at the Whitman Teaches the Movement table. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

Whitman Teaches the Movement (WTTM) is continuing to revolutionize the way that civil rights is taught. The movement’s leaders sophomore Nikki Antenucci and junior Cherokee Washington will attend the Impact Conference to show other schools how establish their own forms of this movement. In addition, they also want to be more proactive about finding ways to educate Whitman students about social justice.

Whitman Teaches the Movement (WTTM) will use a variety of learning styles to teach first, second, fifth, seventh and ninth graders in 40 to 45 Walla Walla classrooms about the civil rights movement on January 25th through February 5th, February 12th, and March 5th. WTTM will also attend conferences to show other colleges how to establish their own versions of it. This year for the first time, WTTM will enter first grade classrooms. Going forward, WTTM may start working on teaching Whitman students about social justice movements too.

In the past, WTTM has only focused on teaching Walla Walla public school students. Originally, back in 2010, the Student Engagement Center and Kate Shuster of the Southern Poverty Law Center coordinated to create WTTM in response to Washington state public schools receiving a failing grade on their ability to teach students about civil rights. This year is the first time that WTTM has considered devoting time to enhancing Whitman students’ knowledge of the civil rights movement as well.

To achieve both of these goals, WTTM now has two co-leaders. Antenucci focuses on the coordination between the volunteers and Walla Walla schools. Washington looks more at how to foster better discussions of civil rights on Whitman’s campus.

“My job is to recruit all the volunteers for Whitman Teaches The Movement at Whitman and also to reach out to all of the different schools and classrooms in Walla Walla and see who would be interested in participating,” Antenucci said.

Washington agrees that her role is more that of helping Whitman students.

“My side of it is getting more of what we are doing on the Whitman campus and implementing discussion and places for discussion with different on-campus events,” Washington said.

Both leaders are currently anticipating the upcoming Impact Conference, a social justice conference where they could potentially encourage students at other colleges and universities to make their own forms of WTTM.

“The Impact Conference is a community service conference all about diversity and charitable work. So hopefully we’ll spread our message and what we are doing to other schools too,” Washington said.

Even though WTTM is starting to emerge as a model for similar programs at many other universities, WTTM still looks for ways to better-educate its participants each year. This year, it stopped teaching in eleventh grade classrooms and switched to first grade ones. The reason for this change is because children are easier to influence at a younger age.

“Children form biases and stereotypes really early on. It’s better that we are targeting the younger students so that we can [disprove] those stereotypes and biases before they are completely formed,” Antenucci said.

Nonetheless, Washington thinks that young children as well as young adults need to have the ability to discuss the issues around various social justice movements.

“Nikki and I have been really adamant about getting Whitman students to be on board with [WTTM] too because a lot of Whitman students just don’t know a whole lot about civil rights and just social justice in general,” Washington said.

While WTTM has yet to develop specific ideas for how to teach Whitman students, it has many ideas on how to educate the elementary, middle and high schoolers.

“We use picture books with young children because a text-heavy book may be intimidating and they may not be able to read yet. The seventh grade lesson is very kinetic. There’s a lot of moving around in addition to reading. The high school lesson is very discussion-oriented. So each one is a little different,” Shuster said.

One strategy that appears to work universally with all students is well-written stories that these students can empathize or at least sympathize with.

“Each of the lessons in the core curriculum try to tell a compelling story to students. For any student, no matter what their background, a text can serve as a mirror—where they see themselves in the text—or a window—where they can see another world,” Shuster said.

Whitman Teaches Movement training. Photo by Tywen Kelly.
Whitman Teaches the Movement training. Photo by Tywen Kelly.