First Year of Gender Inclusive Mx. Whitman Pageant

Oscar Parrish, Staff Reporter

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Seven contestants took to the stage this past Saturday, Nov. 3, to perform in the first ever Mx. Whitman pageant.

The contest, formerly known as Mr. Whitman, is an annual fundraising event organized by members of Whitman’s Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter. Traditionally, the contest has only been open to male students but this year marks the start of a more inclusive event. The seven contestants competing in Mx. Whitman represented fraternities, sororities and the independent student body on campus. The contestants this year included Ben Johns, Brendan Dunlap, Isaac Miller, Jules Choquart, Kieran Natarajan, Mariah Howell and Melissa Kohl.

Leading up to the pageant, the contestants individually fundraised money through various events such as partnering with local restaurants, dyeing their hair for donations and selling baked treats outside of Reid to support a selected local charity. The months of fundraising and preparatory work culminates in the pageant hosted this past Saturday, where the contestant with the most money raised wins the competition. Before the winner is announced, each contestant participates in the talent portion of the event — with acts this year ranging from singing in French to eating chicken nuggets while providing commentary to the audience.

Eliza Davidian, philanthropy chair and organizer of the pageant this year, spoke about the transition from Mr. to Mx.

“At the beginning, there was definitely that like, ‘Oh Mr. Whitman, ah, I mean Mx. Whitman’ weirdness, but I think that’s gone and Mx. Whitman is part of the dialogue and I can’t see it changing back to Mr.,” Davidian said.

By including only male students, the pageant, unconsciously or not, perpetuated exclusive gender norms. The change to Mx. Whitman this year has been well received by students and faculty alike and is very much representative of the campus-wide change to normalizing non-binary gender identities.

Brendan Dunlap, one of the independent contestants this year, reflected on the benefits of participating in a nonbinary pageant.

“I love the idea of shifting away from including [and excluding] people to breaking down the barriers which provide inclusion and exclusion to exist to begin with,” Dunlap said.“I think that by moving towards Mx. Whitman and this sort of rejection of this binary [mentality] that we so passively slip into, I like that act of resistance and I hope it spawns future change [on] Whitman’s campus and beyond.”  

Beyond providing entertainment for Whitman students on a Saturday night, the Mx. Whitman pageant has a serious impact on the Walla Walla community. This year’s chosen recipient for the funds raised was The STAR Project, an organization that serves people with felony convictions and helps them reintegrate into society by providing housing, employment assistance and case management. Typically, felons are released from prison with $40 and the clothes they are wearing, and after having been incarcerated for years, the task of re-assimilating into society can be daunting. This is where The STAR Project steps in, and the effects are significant: the rate of recidivism for STAR clients is less than half the national average. Through months of intense fundraising and work to involve the Whitman and Walla Walla communities, the seven contestants and members of Kappa Kappa Gamma were able to raise $35,000 for this organization.

Davidian addressed the collective efforts that characterize Mx. Whitman and contribute to its success every year.

“It takes an army of people, and we have that with Mx. Whitman… really all of campus is involved,” Davidian said.  

The philanthropic fervor can bring together Whitman students, and amongst other benefits, can help bridge the indie-Greek divide by providing a platform where students can come together in the common aim of supporting an important cause.

Sophomore Lizzy Gazeley was in charge of helping independent contestant Isaac Miller fundraise; she spoke about the community’s willingness to participate in raising money for the STAR project.

“I’ve been taken back by the selflessness that a lot of people involved in this have displayed. I know Eliza dedicates hours upon hours to this, and the amount of passion behind that is just astounding,” Gazeley said.