Civic Newman Fellowship recipient Devon Player ‘23 expounds on the importance of volunteering

Sara Marshall, News Reporter

Contributed Photo by Devon Player.

Devon Player ‘23 has been community-minded from the start of her college career. While at Whitman, Player has participated in a number of volunteer organizations all across campus. This year, she was nominated and accepted as a recipient of the Civic Newman Fellowship.

The Civic Newman Fellowship is sponsored by Campus Compact, a Boston-based national coalition of colleges and universities committed to the public purposes of higher education. Player is one of 173 other students to receive the fellowship for 2022, which includes yearlong virtual learning opportunities and networking as well as an optional in-person convening.

President Kathy Murray nominated Player for the fellowship, speaking at length about her accomplishments and her community-mindedness. 

“For the past three years, she has demonstrated a thoughtful and intentional approach to learning about the Walla Walla community and she works towards building and maintaining positive, mutually beneficial relationships with community partners such as Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) and Blue Zones Project,” Murray said.

Speaking about her experiences at Whitman, Player reflected on how her work as a volunteer and leader has shaped the way she considers issues of access, equity and liberation from oppressive systems.

“I’ve learned a lot through my conversations with other students and professors about how to think more critically and, in many cases, more radically about my role in disrupting systems of oppression and what can be done on an institutional level to address issues of injustice,” Player said.

In her first year at Whitman, Player worked as an intern for America Reads/America Counts, a program designed to tutor elementary school students in reading and math skills. 

In her second year Player worked alongside Assistant Director for Community Engagement Abby Juhasz and Community Learning Specialist Kelsey Martin in developing an adaptation of a platform called Learning Together Today. This program is aimed at engaging in anti-racist reflection on community health and wellness. Originally created by the Center for Community Learning at Western Washington University, Player’s adaptation centered around intricacies in race and health brought to light by COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Player has also worked as an Events and Reflection Program Leader with Blue Mountain Heart to Heart helping organize the annual Walla Walla Family Gift Drive and helped increase COVID-19 vaccine distribution with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. This year Player has been further developing Whitman’s new community engagement program, the Food Justice Project. Along with her co-leader, Olivia Lipson, the Food Justice Project has been working closely with the Blue Mountain Action Council food assistance services team to help out at distributions and box/bag builds.

Player believes that by volunteering, she is able to reciprocate and recognize the support given to her by the communities she is a part of.

“It is a way for me to learn from and support the work of experts in the fields I am passionate about. Many community-centered organizations rely heavily on volunteer support and so for folks that have the ability to volunteer, this is a great way to support the projects and initiatives in your community that you care about,” Player said.

Cautioning against desires to praise selflessness above all else, Player recognizes the advantages that have allowed her the capacity to volunteer. 

“I think it’s important to recognize that there is a lot of privilege in having the time and capacity to volunteer and this is not something that everyone has,” Player said. “Another thing I try to keep in mind when volunteering is that I am a guest in the spaces in which I volunteer and the spotlight needs to be on the knowledge, expertise and voices of the folks I am working with.”

Player has not yet decided what community project she will be working on for the fellowship but wants to focus on community-based reentry programs that support currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.