2023 Rabinowtiz Award winners are announced

Sebastian Squire, News Reporter

Since 2011, the Ben Rabinowitz Award has been given in honor of Whitman College President Tom Chronin to support projects that seek to promote compassion in medicine, politics or on-campus projects. The 2023 award winners were announced this spring and included senior Katie Jose, junior Amy Heitstuman and sophomore Eva Hauksdottir-Neill.

Jose is a global health and Hispanic studies major who volunteers for the SOS Health Clinic in Walla Walla, an organization that serves un- and under-insured individuals. Her project is a website to help provide Spanish-speaking patients with health-related information.

“Most of our patients are Spanish-speaking, I want to say probably 80 percent, maybe a little more,” Jose said. “The project is basically just a way to provide more accessible care to patients … I could tell that a lot of patients really wanted to learn, but they just didn’t know how to start.”

Jose applied for the Rabinowitz Award because she saw compassion as a central aim of her project. 

“Compassion [is] truly what I think a good provider and good person, in general, should have,” Jose said.

Eva Hauksdottir-Neill is an environmental studies and art major who plans to recruit students to visit the Walla Walla Alliance for the Homeless Sleep Center to participate in weekly alternating activities consisting of mindfulness and arts activities.

“Growing up in Portland, homelessness was a huge issue; I watched time and time again as the city continuously failed at attempting to alleviate the suffering of homeless people. Then I come to Whitman College, and see that homelessness is an issue in Walla Walla,” Hauksdottir-Neill said.

Hauksdottir-Neill hopes to inspire compassion and empathy in participants in the project and the unhoused community, specifically with the mindfulness element of the project.

“A really big chunk of [mindfulness] is compassion,” Hauksdottir-Neill said. “Not only will students be interacting with homeless people one-on-one, they will also be interacting with them in a way that is specifically designed to promote compassion between the two individuals.”

Jose and Hauksdottir-Neill see their projects as helping to pop the “Whitman Bubble” — the disconnect between Whitman and the greater Walla Walla community. 

“Whitman is basically a gated community,” Hauksdottir-Neill said. “A lot of people here are super rich and have never had to encounter a lot [of] oppression … I’m hoping that with this program, it will tie in more directly with class awareness, and people being able to reflect on their own privileges.”

Amy Heitstuman plans to pursue studies in law, and her project centers around creating a forum between students from all three Walla Walla colleges to discuss controversial topics.

“One thing that I’ve loved about my politics [and] rhetoric classes is the openness in the conversations that we have,” Heitstuman said. “I’m in [the First Amendment politics course] right now, and [we’ve learned] we need to have everyone’s voices. It doesn’t really work if everyone has the same opinions. [I’m] not saying that everyone at Whitman has the same opinions, but we have a really similar vibe going on here.”

The proposed project consists of a speech by Erin Jones, a former candidate for Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, followed by discussion of controversial political topics.

“I think it’s so important to be able to sit down and have a genuine conversation, even when someone may not share the same view,” Heitstuman said.

Director of the Community Engagement and Career Center (CCEC) Noah Leavitt receives the applications for the Rabinowitz Award. 

“[The award] allows something really powerful to happen that benefits a lot of people. It’s one [of] my favorite parts of the year, to open this up and allow students a chance to really dream,” Leavitt said. 

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Alzada Tipton selects the recipients of the award.

“Noah [Leavitt] and I tend to look for one awardee who is focused on the Whitman community and one awardee who is focused on the larger community,” Tipton said.

Senior Kainat Ansari is a psychology major and was a winner of the Rabinowitz Award in 2022 for her project “You Are Not Alone,” or YANA, focusing on BIPOC mental health on Whitman’s campus.

YANA was divided into two parts: the first being a documentary featuring BIPOC students talking about mental health challenges they have experienced on campus, and stories of healing to emphasize that students are not alone. The second is the creation of a website with a forum for students to come together and support one another amid mental health challenges.

Ansari screened the documentary on April 12, 2023.

“At the end, I received a lot of compliments. A lot of people really, really liked the project and loved the documentary. I think they were very touched by people’s courage to talk about [BIPOC mental health],” Ansari said.

Ansari struggled with a lack of available statistics on BIPOC mental health and reported that the administration was initially unhelpful in handing over the relevant statistics.

“I think, first of all, we do not really have a lot of BIPOC mental health facilities on the campus in general. We do not have data about BIPOC mental health journeys or numbers,” Ansari said. “I tried to talk [to] administration and everything. Administration was very hard to come through, to be honest.”

Ansari hopes that BIPOC students with mental health struggles will take inspiration from her project, echoing the community-centered emphasis of the Rabinowitz Award.

“There was a goal that people can take some inspiration, because [in] the end, inspiration is contagious, and you don’t have to think that no one is there for you,” Ansari said.