Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Symposium needs student input to be effective

Can Whitman College establish a tradition that allows students to grapple with difficult, uncomfortable questions outside of classes? That’s what I wanted to know when I went in pursuit of symposia knowledge to President Bridges’ office hours in the Reid Coffee House last Thursday.

Symposium needs student input to be effective | Illustration by Avi Conant
I asked about the status of the Race Symposium: whether or not there would be more and, further, if students would retain their ability to lead them. I was told that the next Symposium for Whitman College will be held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. President Bridges referred questions to his associate Jed Schwendiman and Professor Nina Lerman, chair of the race and ethnic studies department and one of the principal planners of the last Symposium. Professor Lerman declined to comment on the record.

When Mr. Schwendiman was asked if any students were involved in the decision making process regarding the symposium, he said (in e-mail form), “none directly.” Mr. Schwendiman also commented about the efficacy of a group decision: “I strongly believe that a debate about the date of the symposium for this year and/or how it was selected would be counter-productive.”

Holding an event for students and not consulting students on when they could/would attend is in poor taste, to say the least. Regardless, the date is set, and the content will probably be set soon. Let’s hope that the Bridges administration at least allows student input on that. Incidentally, the ASWC Senate agrees: Last year, the House of Clubs and Senate passed the only concurrent resolution in my memory: CODA. Basically, CODA would have created a committee to govern the creation of annual symposia about diversity on campus. When the Senate realized that President Bridges was already moving on more symposia, they decided that, as long as we got to appoint members to his committee, CODA was still legitimate.

It rapidly becomes irrelevant if the President doesn’t even use the committee to make decisions. Indeed, the decision about when it should be held was made before the committee has even been appointed. Further: What does this say about the efficacy of ASWC? What does this say about President Bridges’ respect for those leaders the students here have selected? If the House of Representatives and the Senate can each unanimously pass a resolution like CODA, why does President Bridges see fit to ignore that?

The symposium was something that would have an impact on students and the community we’re trying to achieve here. The sessions I went to even went about it the right way: Students were communicating with each other, ideologies were clashing and people were interpreting things differently. This is why I came to Whitman: because I have something to learn from other people. I believe that more perspective makes issues more complex. Say what you want about the symposium. I supported it, and if you didn’t, you didn’t have to go.

The student body at Whitman College had something to be proud of in this event: We did it. We put together something real: something complex. It is for this reason that I support further symposia on one condition: that the students lead, plan and execute them. I believe firmly that if we are to learn and grapple with questions, it won’t be accomplished through lecture. It will be students in head-on battles of wits. If President Bridges’ administration seeks to change that student involvement and leadership: to reverse it: he risks destroying the value of something that once had the potential to be truly worthwhile.

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