Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

A Conversation with Jeanine Gordon, Special Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach

Photo contributed by Jeanine Gordon

Whitman College recently unveiled a new role: Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach. The Wire spoke with Jeanine Gordon, the first person to fill that role, to hear her vision for Whitman’s Indigenous future while reflecting on its past as well as the current moment. 

The following conversation has been edited for both clarity and brevity.

The Wire: What’s your backstory and how did it lead you here?

Jeanine Gordon: I worked for Whitman College in the Communications Office. And while I was in that role, I met Dr. Johnson, who did a presentation for new employees. And in the presentation, he did the land acknowledgement. Afterward, I introduced myself to him and told him I’m an enrolled tribal member of the CTUIR, so I just wanted to express my thanks that the college provided that land acknowledgement, because this is my home. After we met, he talked with some folks about the Whitman College Advisory Council for CTUIR collaboration, and said, “…Could we invite her to be on this council?” So they did. And I gladly accepted. And so I was able to attend the Council meets during the academic year, and I started in April.

I was able to share with them that I grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and [am an] enrolled tribal member, and then got to participate in some of the discussions that they were having about activities that were going on with the tribes and some discussions about the Memorandum of Agreement [MOA]. 

Wire: What does being Special Assistant to the President for Native American Outreach entail? 

JG: So I do have some other principal accountabilities, aside from the MOA responsibilities. And so that is leading key initiatives that are related to the CTUIR and Whitman College and building on that relationship. Another priority is coordinating with the Admissions Office for outreach around the Šináata Scholarship, which is a new scholarship they introduced in 2022. So I’ll be working on doing some outreach to high schools.

Wire: What adversity did you face kind of on your way to getting this position and what were some challenges you ran into initially stepping into the role, if any? 

JG: I think that the areas where my focus is being divided could definitely be areas where more staff could be involved.

Having said that, that hasn’t been a negative challenge. [It] has just been a thought in my mind about future growth for Native American Programs at Whitman College, because since I’ve started in the five months that I’ve been here, I [have] only received positive feedback and support. I’m sure challenges are going to come as time goes on, but everybody has been very receptive to this new role. 

Wire: What are some of your plans, hopes and wishes for the future of Whitman, particularly given its pretty complicated history and who it’s named after? What are the steps you plan to take in order to achieve whatever your most ambitious goals are? 

JG: I think that there is a very challenging and emotional history. And the MOA, and the relationship that’s been built the last few years is helping lead us in a direction where we can work together to come to a common understanding about telling the whole story and about telling the whole history, and including this historical information that is reflective of the Native American First Nations people. And that will go a long way toward what the future of Native American outreach looks like for women, recruiting Native American students and retention. My goal for the future is to get to that place where we’re on the other side of that challenge. 

In the future, I’m hoping that the Native American student population will grow from below one percent to something more. 

Wire: What are some of your ideas for outreach that would kind of improve or help boost those numbers? 

JG: Building a community relationship is fundamental to the foundation of being able to have a successful outreach program. By sharing community events, my hopes are that more of the Whitman community, like students, staff and faculty will begin to become more aware of what the CTUIR community is about, the events that they do, and what their culture is about. That interaction [ideally] becomes a way of life for the Whitman community to be involved in CTUIR community events. Then it won’t feel like you’re from a foreign place … But when we build that relationship, they’ll be like, ‘I’m going. It’s my home.’ 

Wire: This year, Indigenous People’s Day will be honored on Oct. 9. What are some of your hopes for Whitman’s participation in the national holiday, and what might the school be missing?

JG: …We’re focusing on November as Native American Heritage Month. My idea for the future would be to definitely have an Indigenous Peoples Day event in October as well as Native American Heritage Month November activities. 

There is an event in October, that’s not exactly on Indigenous People’s Day but it’s close to it … Northwest Public Broadcasting Group reached out and asked if there was a local story at Whitman that would be relatable to a TV series on the American Buffalo. And so I said, ‘yes, definitely’, because one of our cultural practices is hunting Bison, and the Šináata scholar, Aiden Wolf, and his family do that. On Oct. 14, Northwest Public Broadcasting will come and have a live interview with Aidan and his family at Maxey Hall at 7 PM, and then have a reception afterwards where people can interact and ask questions in person. 

Wire: What has you most excited in terms of  new initiatives happening on campus? 

JG: The Powwow. That’s going to be huge. And it’s historical. First ever Powwow on Whitman’s campus and it’s going to be an annual event. So that’s very exciting. It’s going to be an awesome event.

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