Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

From the Editors: The Pioneer’s Un-naming

2/26 Update: Your thoughts and feedback are important to us. Please add to this discussion using this form if you’d like to share ideas, reactions, or any additional comments with us.

Last week, The Pioneer announced that it will recommence under a new name in the fall of 2016. In the past few days, we’ve received thoughtful and important notes of both criticism and support in response to this editorial decision.

Members of the editorial board first began a discussion about changing the name last fall. Conversations with members of the Indigenous Person’s Education and Culture Club (IPECC), faculty and The Pioneer’s own advisory board encouraged us to think seriously about how and why we should move forward under a new name. We view this decision as one piece of a larger movement on Whitman’s campus to reckon with symbols and markers that venerate colonial settlers.

Our decision to change the name of this newspaper is the product of an ongoing conversation about Whitman’s history; it is not an isolated action. We are joining the conversation initiated by IPECC, student activists and faculty with the goal of critically understanding and examining this college’s history.

Names and words cannot exist devoid of context. In our case, the name ‘Pioneer’ cannot be divorced from its historical origin. In its first issue, published in 1896, editors of The Pioneer wrote that the paper’s name was a tribute to Cushing Eells, the Whitmans, and the scores of other white settlers who came to this valley under the pretense of moral and racial superiority. As student journalists, we can no longer deny that our name promotes and celebrates their harmful legacy.

We will not passively embrace a historical narrative that we no longer wish to support. We see this as a process of grappling with the history of Whitman College and scrutinizing language that glorifies that history. Our autonomy as an entirely student-run newspaper makes us unique. In the spirit of independent and accurate journalism, we proceeded with our campaign on the strength of our editorial conviction and the support of our advisory board.

When campus symbols meant to encourage and promote a sense of community, unity and shared values become divisive, they no longer serve their purpose. We hope to move forward with a new name that doesn’t misrepresent our attitude towards Whitman’s history, and one that accurately reflects our values and those of the students we serve.

The Pioneer has been a major part of our lives at Whitman, and that of countless alumni. It is important to emphasize that we will always share the same history and the same values of independent student journalism. We do not intend to disparage the extraordinary work of students who came before us. Rather, we intend to align the name of the paper with the values of critical thinking and inquiry we aspire to as student journalists. We hope to choose a new name with the help of the Whitman community that better reflects this paper’s mission.

In the coming days, students, staff, and faculty will receive a survey requesting input to enact this process, and soliciting ideas for a new name. Alumni will receive a similar survey. We will also hold a student and community forum on our rebranding campaign as part of Wednesday’s ASWC Town Hall, at 7:00 p.m. in the basement of Reid, as well as a forum for faculty and staff at 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 8 in Olin 130. We are currently planning focus group lunches to discuss new name ideas and other ways in which we can ensure this process reflects the concerns of current students, staff and faculty.

We look forward to discussion with the Whitman community as we choose a new name that can represent our present values without denying our past.

Thank you to those who weighed in on this decision last week, whether via online messages or in person. We hope to hear more of your thoughts and ideas in the coming weeks. Please send any comments, questions, concerns or Letters to the Editor to [email protected]

-Editorial Board of The Pioneer

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  • G

    Gerard v.B.Apr 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    A logically consistent approach to this level of cultural sensitivity would dictate changing the very name of Whitman College as well.

  • D

    D.F.Mar 14, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Since the “Pioneer” is offensive to many, and the “Fighting Missionaries” is objectionable, surely the name of the school must also be changed. The Whitman’s, after all, were “invaders” and their memory must be quashed if those with such elevated sensitivities are truly consistent. Let us also not forget that Ralph Cordiner was CEO of General Electric, that evil, big business that has contributed to global warming and treated the working people so poorly, or that Levi Ankeny was a, and this is difficult to write, Republican (sorry for the language) and a banker (again, sorry).

    It’s really difficult for me to understand why any student would attend such an evil school, or why any adult would want to work for it. Maybe renaming the school and removing anyone with contrary opinions from the school is a good start. Then no-one would have their feelings hurt.

  • M

    Matt Schissler '07Mar 2, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Kristofer, I’m unpersuaded. Most of your arguments are either 1) inexplicably angry insults directed towards students 20 years your junior, 2) “other things are more important,” or 3) “this won’t solve all bad things.” Seriously?

    From what I can tell, the Pio name change is one small part of a larger effort by students and faculty to seriously engage with the college’s history. Check out their proposal for first-year curriculum that carefully studies, among other things, the Whitmans. You seem to think that the editorial staff need to learn more about this–that’s exactly what they are calling for. From what you’ve written, I think you would benefit from learning more about the history too. I know I would–I wish we’d had something like this when I was a student.

    In debater speak: all but one of your args are defense, solvency mitigators at best. Your only other argument is a lame attempt at an impact turn, maybe? But the other plank of their plan solves that impact better, which means you read them a new advantage. No ballot for you.

  • C

    Chris '04Mar 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    When do we start spitballing new names? Here’s a few just off the dome:

    1) The Whitman College Whitmanian
    2) The Whitman Creepy-Observer
    3) The Whitman College Slow Death of Print Journalism
    4) The Walla Walla News News
    5) The Weekly Gazelle
    6) The Washington Redskins
    7) The Whitman College Good Kind of Pioneer Not the Racist Kind
    8) The Whitman College Clocktower or Duck Pond or Whatever

  • C

    Collin ('17)Feb 27, 2016 at 12:22 am

    Thanks for your remarks Kristopher P, you bring up some good points.

    I do disagree with you however, I think the name change is a step in the right direction.

    First of all, we don’t need to be afraid of change. The honest truth is, of all the current students I know, none actually identify as a Whitman Missionary, let alone a Pioneer. Terms or mascots that we hear on campus range from Whitties to Sweets, but certainly not Missionaries or Pioneers.

    You bring up a good point about the survivors of the Whitman Massacre. I’m sure that was quite terrifying, and how fortunate that the Whitman Mission was there to protect those young children. A massacre on any account is a horrible event.

    However, this anecdote you’ve shared distracts people from the fact that the Cayuse natives didn’t want the Whitmans there in the first place. The massacre and hostage situation that took place was a message as if to say to the white man, “This is our land, we don’t want you here.” True, they went about it in an aggressive way, but this was a recurring trope throughout westward expansion: white people migrating, and the natives not being happy about it. You said yourself that Whitman does a good job of teaching pupils to view events from the perspective of “the other.” I’m having a hard time seeing how that argument supports your push to keep the name “The Pioneer,” when the pioneers mistreated the natives that previously lived on this land.

    It sounds like you were a debater, so you clearly know the power words can have on emotions. Certain words however, can affect people to varying degrees. For example, racial slurs don’t have much of an effect on me, because most racial slurs were invented by white people to discriminate. Racial slurs have a much bigger impact on People of Color. Hence, I think that it’s unfair of you to generalize that the term “Pioneer” is only a tenuous link to “white supremacy in the Inland Northwest.” For YOU it may be a weak link, but for SOME people there is a strong connection. Not to mention the fact that the foundation of the name for the newspaper was celebrating “white settlers who came to this valley under the pretense of moral and racial superiority.” Another glance at the above article would show you that this was an excerpt from the first issue of the Pioneer. What kind of progressive, liberal arts school would stand for racial superiority?

    I’m not well versed in debate, nor am I affiliated with the debate team, but it doesn’t take a rhetorician to see that bringing up the debate team incident in this discussion is a red herring. Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for the students involved in debate, and I do recognize that our debate team is very talented and award winning. However, the editors of the Pio should not be obligated to speak out against the banning of the debate team. Additionally, the issue of the debate team being banned has absolutely NOTHING to do with the editors’ decision to change the name of the campus weekly. Plus, if you look into the archives of the Pioneer’s website, you will find multiple articles reporting on the debate team incidents, so your assertion that the Pio was silent for both disbandments of the debate team is blatantly false. Besides, the Pio is a campus newspaper, what really do you expect them to do regarding the debate team other than report the news?

    Finally, I strongly feel that all opinions should be heard on this matter, which is why I’m sure I speak for many people when I say I really appreciate your input, even if I respectfully disagree.

    What I don’t appreciate however, are offensive remarks regarding our editors and our school. I’m not a member of the Pio, but it’s unnecessary and offensive to insult the people that run this newspaper. They specifically asked for all feedback and opinions. You can give your opinion on the name change without being insulting. Plus, though the name change was officially declared by the editors, it’s foolish to think they came to this decision on their own. You’ve been removed from campus for a while now, but the debate about the name has been an ongoing discussion since I matriculated in 2013. You’re worried that this change takes too much energy through surveys and online responses, but I can also assure you, that this is not the only subject students discuss on campus. Most conversations do in fact address issues outside the borders of our campus. This particular topic happens to be about an improvement we can make within our institution. I don’t think the Pio should be criticized for trying to change something inside the “Whitman bubble.”

    Additionally, to claim that a once great collegiate institution that produced astronauts and politicians has become a luxury consumer good just over 15 years later is ludicrous. It’s the same school, just a few years older. The quality of education is stronger than ever. And I can assure you that most current students would be offended that you trivialize our education as a consumer good.

    You’re right. History has no undo button. We can’t undo the fact that “The Pioneer” was established on a severely racist foundation. Fortunately, the staff of this paper have the power to unite the current students around a campus weekly newspaper with a new name founded on inclusive ideals that will aim to represent the entire student body. I, for one, wholeheartedly support this.

  • M

    Morgan ('09)Feb 25, 2016 at 2:58 am

    I support this conversation and the move towards changing the mascot and paper name. I don’t have any nostalgia for the names Missionary or Pioneer that overrides my desire for our alma mater to be an inclusive place for current and future students.

  • K

    Kenny R-S'98Feb 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks Kris! Couldn’t have said it better!

  • L

    Liz SmithFeb 24, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Bravo, Kristofer P! Spot on remarks.

  • K

    Kristofer P. '97Feb 24, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Perhaps one may wish to consider changing this paper’s name to The PIOUS?

    Many folks may continue referring to the paper as ‘The Pio’ and the editorial board may earnestly feel that they have contributed ‘meaningful change’ to Whitman. The vexing fact about history is that it lacks an ‘undo’ button.

    Whitman College is named in memory of Marcus & Prentiss Narcissa Whitman. Given that the Whitmans’ doctored to, ministered to & taught local people during the mid-19th century this paper’s recent characterization that the Whitmans arrived to “an empty and savage land” is false. Both died in an all too familiar Western mass killing which took 14 local lives during 1847. I once met a fellow Whittie whose homesteader ancestors survived this unfortunate incident as children by hiding floor boards at the Whitman Mission. Imagine how frightening that event must have been for those young survivors.

    Thankfully it doesn’t take a Whitman debater to explain that linking the name ‘Pioneer’ to ‘white supremacy in the Inland Northwest’ is tenuous at best. That’s akin to saying Phil Brick’s writings about the American West ‘inspired’ anti federalists to occupy a bird watching center in rural Oregon.

    My reading of the Whitman Massacre, as many refer to this unfortunate pivotal event, is that it is a teachable moment in ‘otherness’ & fear of things some people do not yet grasp. A Liberal Arts education often teaches fortunate pupils how to view events from a perspective of ‘the other’. Yet here we have an editorial board of three current students including a Californian, a Midwesterner & an ‘investigative’ journalist editorialising that Manifest Destiny was misguided 175 years too late! This board includes two outgoing seniors and one whose list of activities & interests includes ‘REWIND’: Re-Examining the Whitman Identity & Native Dispossession’. Praise progressive, objective journalism.

    The Pio’s editorial board was noticeably silent when recently this college TWICE disbanded one of the nation’s most respected & successful intercollegiate debate programs. Somehow this loss to Whitman’s intellectual community is less important than what we call the campus weekly. My mid-90s class produced Whitties with pioneering spirit including an astronaut & a diplomat who served in the Obama White House. Time will tell what contributions this generation of Whitties make. Yet here we have an elite college that The New York Times consistently ranks well below its peer group for low & middle-income accessibility. And The Pio is opting to devote nearly a semester to surveys and focus groups about its name. This change treats the Whitman experience as just another luxury consumer good which, in many ways, it sadly has become.

    So what next for REWIND? Maybe a jack hammer to the memorial outside Prentiss Hall and replacing that stone with busts of our three wise editorial board members. Beware of thy silver spoon; some may consider it a choking hazard once thy Whitman bubble bursts.