Students Must Engage More with Life Outside Whitman Bubble

This guest column was written by Jane Carmody ’14

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Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

Before I arrived in Walla Walla, it was always a struggle to describe to those in my hometown where exactly I was going to be spending my undergraduate days. Walla Walla sounded like a fairytale, something unreal and too good to be true, but coming from Albuquerque, I guess I was destined for places with unique names.

My freshman year was the classic scenario: the ’80s dance, college cabin, soaking in the sun on Ankeny Field, eating Taqueria burritos in the wheat fields and dreading Encounters papers. However, as time went on, I struggled to find those moments of happiness again at Whitman. I became frustrated with the smallness, and about halfway through my junior year I felt absolutely trapped. I decided to make a drastic change and spend about 10 months away in Philadelphia and Washington D.C. During those 10 months I was able to gain a grasp on who I was again, but I realized I was only able to do this through the support system I had created for myself, here, at Whitman. The friends I made through Residence Life as a resident assistant at Whitman reeled me back in when I felt lost and disconnected from Whitman and Walla Walla.

Now, in my last year, I have a different struggle. I have fallen in love again with not only Whitman, but with the Walla Walla community. I can only attribute this to my ability to step outside the Whitman bubble, the bubble that made me feel so trapped before. Now, don’t get me wrong, it has been extremely hard balancing a thirty-hour work week at my off-campus job and being a senior politics major, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade the things I have learned from my part-time job for anything else.

I do, however, think that there is a strong disconnect between Whitman and the larger Walla Walla community. Many students never make it past Bright’s Candies on Main Street. It makes me sad to think that some Whitman students are missing out on what Walla Walla has to offer.

Whitman is a campus bursting with intellectual curiosity. We need to take advantage of not only the knowledge we have on campus, but how our campus interacts with the community of Walla Walla. As a politics major, I can see how our community is rich with complex examples of social hierarchies of power. We are one of the nation’s largest wine-producing communities, but yet we are also home to the Washington State Penitentiary. Why does the community continue to vote down improvements for Walla Walla High School’s science building renovation? Take a moment. Think about how these issues affect Walla Walla, and how possibly these three communities interact with one another. When you take a second to really think about Walla Walla, you will come to find that it is a unique community.

There isn’t a whole lot of discussion among the student body about the Walla Walla community and what it means to them. I urge current Whitman students to step beyond the Whitman bubble. Volunteer at the STEP Women’s Shelter or at the Blue Mountain Humane Society. Ride your bike to the movie theater. Take a trip to a local farm. I think there is a collective vibe among Whitman students that Walla Walla is boring and stagnant. I would strongly disagree with these sentiments.

It’s important to take what we learn from Whitman and understand how our knowledge can impact the world around us. We will all have to leave the Whitman community eventually, but I think it is important that once we leave, we remember how we felt about the community that fostered our intellectual exploration. Because we all have fond memories of Walla Walla: admiring the sunsets, eating that veggie torta at Graze, going crazy when the Patisserie sold lavender chip gelato and walking to the farmer’s market.

It’s easy to remain within the safety of the bubble, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything less. My co-workers at my part-time job have become great and long-lasting friends. The locals who come into the shop and ask me how my thesis writing is going make me feel empowered and connected. The tourists stopping by for some local flair always have fantastic life stories. I feel more connected to Whitman now than I ever have before, and I attribute this to my connection with Walla Walla.