Op-Ed: Refreshing whitman.edu

Adeline Rother, Senior Adjunct Assistant Professor of French and Francophone Studies, General Studies, and Rhetoric, Writing and Public Discourse 

Whitman’s website bears the message, “A Place Like No Other.” However, the images on the website make it look exactly like a place like any other. With enrollments falling and the budget facing an enormous shortfall, it’s time to take a fresh look at the college’s website. Our homepage must prove that Whitman, Walla Walla, and the surrounding areas truly are a place like none else.

Whitman’s website is the first and maybe last place a prospective student will go when they check out Whitman College. Words that come to mind when viewing the main page are collegiate, conservative and normcore. The page features the Memorial clocktower obscured by the greenery of surrounding trees. The sky is blue, the borders are blue, but there is no sign of the Blues, which form the backdrop of this crazy beautiful town. Aren’t the Blues supposed to be our mascot?  

Whitman’s marketing should foreground “Place” beyond the campus itself. Where are the views of the Blue Mountains, the sunset in the wheat fields, the stubble of wind turbines on bizarro hillsides? I wonder at the conflicts in our college’s psyche which compel us to erase our place and erect the logo of Memorial instead. We should admit that as a symbol, “Mem” is most appealing to those associated with its power. Perhaps we hesitate to show these lands which really belong to indigenous peoples. To address these issues, the website can educate prospective students and appeal to those who want to learn about the fraught local history of this area.  

Figuring out how to show Walla Walla is the key to helping students imagine themselves here. Our downtown is begging to be photographed for a “Safety in Walla Walla” tab on our website. We have an entire street, closed to traffic, strung with lights over bright yellow tables and chairs. People are wearing masks and going for their pastries and espresso. Prospective students and their families should be shown how our city’s leadership has transformed public areas so that the social and economic life of the town can go on. Anxious parents would appreciate this. They’d say, go forth, and here’s some pastry money. 

Academic programs at Whitman are currently under fiscal review. Programs and departments deemed “non-revenue generating” are going to be downsized or eliminated. Cutting the budget and streamlining programs will change Whitman, and maybe not for the better. Before we change it, why not show it? Even in a post-COVID future, students will want to live in a safety-conscious small city with open spaces and fresh air. Not everyone likes being surrounded by sun-drenched vineyards and fields of lavender, but many people do. Walla Walla is very different, a little weird, and uniquely beautiful. We have something special here. Not just a dime-a-dozen liberal arts college, but, truly, a place like no other. 

As President Murray and the trustees decide what to invest in, and what to cut, please, Whitman, don’t cut me. Try re-envisioning our online presence first.