Op-Ed: Selective Inclusion

Ethan Graham, Whitman College Senior

There is a divide between Whitman and the Walla Walla community that cannot be bridged until Whitman is more diverse, more accepting and less afraid to engage directly with people that live around us. This divide is inherent in a selective institution like Whitman, but is only compounded by Whitman’s inability to diversify its faculty and student body.

There is a certain type of person who ‘looks’ like Whitman. Style of dress and certain brands obviously help complete this image; they are markers that already traffic in classism as they necessarily preclude those who cannot afford them. But one of the most obvious markers is race. This fictional, yet clearly defined image of the ‘Whitman student’ is white. This isn’t the only type of person at Whitman, but it is certainly the most visible and therefore the most recognized.

Last weekend, I invited a couple of my friends from Walla Walla Community College to go out with me at Whitman. These were college students in flannels, khakis and Nikes. We could have swapped outfits and looked identical. I say this because the only difference in appearance was the fact that they are Hispanic and my Whitman friends and I are white. That night, we ended up at a party dominated by students in Greek life. Due to the presence of two college students who do not fit the image of a Whitman student, we were immediately questioned, told to leave and eventually physically removed from that party. We were not being exceptionally rowdy or disruptive, and we knew many of the other people at the party, yet we were the only group asked for our IDs and subsequently forced to leave.

I have had many white friends from home come visit me at Whitman and go to fraternity and off-campus parties who have never been asked if they were Whitman students or told to leave a party. This is not the first time my friends from Walla Walla have been out with me at Whitman either. Each time they come out with me, these friends are unfairly targeted and questioned, and each time I have ended the night with an apology, embarrassed about how they were treated on campus. Hosts of a party should be able to remove someone from their home. However, my experiences with friends that do not ‘look’ like Whitman show that this campus is an exceedingly uncomfortable space for some and indicates a bigger problem this campus has of relating to its community.

I understand the desire for increased security at parties this year, particularly for those hosted by members of the Greek System. However, this vigilance should not come at a cost to those who may already feel marginalized on Whitman’s campus. The idea behind policies like ID checking is understandable, but the reality is that keeping out non-Whitman students will not happen. Siblings, prospective students, and friends of Whitman students, none of whom possess Whitman IDs, will continue to go to Greek parties. Any Whitman student knows that in practice, these rules will be bent and the burden will fall on those who don’t fit the typical image of a Whitman student, like my friends from Walla Walla CC.

When I apologized to one of my friends about how they were treated at my school, he replied, “We know what to expect whenever we go to Whitman.” They expect to be targeted, they are used to it, and that is wrong. Whitman prides itself on being a campus full of progressive idealism, but the truth is it is no less susceptible to racism than any other community. Incidents that target and exclude people of color continue to occur on this campus. Just because the racism here is less overt or obvious to some does not mean it is any less damaging or dangerous.

I know there are some people who believe these instances are not about race. But they are indicative of Whitman’s continued problems in treating those that do not meet the “Whitman type” with respect. These were small acts, but their underlying ideology is pervasive and insidious. Don’t ignore it.