Using student labor isn’t the only way Whitman should give back to the community

Alanna Sherman , Columnist

At Whitman College, apparently “our foundation is also a belief in the value of community and power of relationships”—so why is it so hard to build community and strengthen relationships between Whitman and the greater Walla Walla community? On campus, we consistently hear the phrase “Whitman bubble” but are we really understanding its consequences? 

Whitman greatly profits from Walla Walla. The campus takes up 117 acres of land, and much of the school advertising uses Walla Walla for its own benefit. Whitman is an elite liberal arts college whose endowment grew by $300 million during the COVID-19 pandemic, existing in a community facing food insecurity at about 11.6 percent with about 2,040 children struggling to receive enough food every day. As much as Whitman likes to brag about Walla Walla, how much does the institution truly care for its home? 

Throughout the years there have been many student-led mutual aid projects to provide care for the Walla Walla community. Whitman uplifts these student achievements by including them in its advertising. The school provides opportunities for students to complete these projects such as the Ben Rabinowitz Award, in which students submit project proposals and two of the projects are chosen to receive funding. These projects often become engaged with Walla Walla in attempts to grant assistance in meeting community needs.

There are also paid student leadership positions through the CCEC such as the Food Justice Project, Buddy Program, Adopt-A-Grandparent, Friends Mentor Program and Story Time, which allows students to become more involved in helping the Walla Walla community thrive.

Whitman does a beautiful job at funding some student-led projects that engage with the Walla Walla community, but why does student-labor dominate the ways in which Whitman “gives back”? 

There are even examples of student-led mutual aid projects that the college will not fund, as they don’t quite meet Whitman’s standards. This fall, members of the Leftist Mutual Aid Club, myself included, put together a free food, clothing and toiletries pantry in Whitman’s Organic Garden that is meant to provide members of the Walla Walla community with basic survival needs. Students bought, painted and consistently filled the pantry with resources, costing nearly $1,000 so far, but Whitman College has yet to assist with funding or support students through planning a fundraiser to raise money for mutual aid in Walla Walla. Helping to maintain a pantry by providing free necessary resources would be a simple way for Whitman to extend care to Walla Walla, and the severe lack of support for this project is a clear statement of the lack of care the institution truly has. 

We may be on a college campus, but this campus sits on Walla Walla land and the community is not very far to reach. Whitman College continues to profit off of the city it has the privilege to reside in, but when will the college help to benefit the city without relying on student-labor?

Alanna Sherman is a co-founder of the Leftist Mutual Aid Club.