Whitman’s new Indigenous scholarship is in the works

Sara Marshall, News Reporter

Whitman is set to unveil a new scholarship for Indigenous students, with hopes to make an official announcement before the start of the 2022 fall semester. Though the scholarship has not yet been given an official name, Whitman has partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) to collaborate on the details of the scholarship.

With many aspects of the scholarship still in the process of deliberation, little has been said about the scope of the scholarship, although work has been underway prior to the start of the fall semester last year.

In November 2021, President Murray briefly mentioned the scholarship and the further work necessary for the viability of financial contributions.

“We haven’t made a public announcement yet because we are working with the Confederated Tribes on what to call it,” Murray said. “We want to be respectful of their desires in terms of the naming of the scholarship and we need that before we’re going to make a public announcement, but the scholarship is there.”

Although there has been official acknowledgement from the admissions office regarding the existence of the scholarship, several members of the Whitman community who have met with the director of admissions believe that the scholarship entails naming a CTUIR scholar who will receive an almost fully funded scholarship for their four years at Whitman. An additional facet of the scholarship potentially provides this funding for up to five students.

Indigenous People’s Education and Culture Club (IPECC) Treasurer Jaden McGinty ‘23 emphasized the lack of support Indigenous students currently receive at Whitman. He noted that these issues potentially exclude people who identify as Pacific Islanders, Canadian Indigenous people, First Nations people or Central American Indigenous people.

“From what I’ve been told, there are four students on campus who self-identified as Indigenous to the college when they applied,” McGinty said. “It’s troubling dealing with statistics like that because I don’t want to essentialize Indigenous people to a statistic or to a desirable commodity. I fear that’s what happens a lot with how diversity and inclusion is framed especially for a private, profit driven liberal college like Whitman.”

McGinty believes that the scholarship is a step in the right direction and could provide previously unavailable access to Indigenous students, but still warns against the dangers of throwing money at the problem.

“For sure there are financial barriers that can keep a lot of people from coming to a place like this and there’s something to be said about higher education and really intense skill training and bringing that back to the reservation,” McGinty said. “However, there are criticisms of that from reservation communities and Indigenous communities that it’s essentially taking up the white man’s way as another form of assimilation. It’s a constant struggle and a really complicated thing.”

Director of the Career and Community Engagement Center Noah Leavitt wants to highlight the importance of Indigenous voices on campus while recognizing the convolution of the history of Whitman and Native American people.

“There’s this larger interest of the college in being a resource to really talented young people all around what is now the United States. People have family relations and connections to tribes and communities all across the nation,” Leavitt said. “It is important to understand the thinking on campus about how to have these scholarships be defined because of the complexity of family ties, relationships and descendancy.”

McGinty also criticized Whitman’s delineation of work to unpaid students and lack of serious assistance in organizations across campus. Speaking about his own work with IPECC, McGinty indicates that the college should be shouldering the brunt of the work toward building an institution that can accommodate students of all kinds.  

“It’s essentially the college pawning off a very large problem to the people who are most affected by that problem,” McGinty said. “It is asking in effect that Indigenous students and marginalized students do the work of making the campus a safer and more inclusive space rather than putting in that work itself and putting money towards that work besides the scholarship. A lot more thought and effort and resources need to be put towards building the campus community.”