Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

From the Archives: Answers to a Plea: Boycott Best Not Bought

This letter from the Editors initially appeared in the Feb. 6, 1986 edition of The Whitman Pioneer. The opinion was co-written by The Pioneer’s editors, and appears as it was initially ran; the only edits are to spelling.

Mark Tabbutt, Pioneer Editor

The Pioneer has always been us­ed for announcements of campus events. Thus, when I was ap­proached by a member of Students for Social Change this week to run their letter announcing the boycott of classes. Randy and I agreed as long as names be included (stan­dard Pioneer policy). On being asked if the letter could be printed as an announcement somewhere other than the opinion page, I declined. As most other students, I started to decide whether or not I would support the boycott of classes. While supporting the teach-in I disagree with the call to boycott classes. 

Last week we ran a story about the Reed College divestment move­ment taking over Elliot Hall—the administration building. Whether the call for boycotting classes is a result of Reed’s incident is not clear, but what is certain is that these two incidents draw many of the same parallels. One interesting note—included in last week’s article—was that administration sources stated the action greatly divided the students and ad­ministration.

One year ago I went to a night discussion on divestment at which Treasurer Pete Reid spoke. I noticed a great deal of hostility toward Reid from the students who had planned the event. Remarking later to someone how embarrassed I was at how rude my fellow students had been to a man who had volunteered his time to explain Whitman’s position, she emotionally responded, “ God, Mark, how can you be embarrass­ed when people are being killed.’’ I guess I just feel a little distanced from the killing in Walla Walla.

However, don’t get me wrong. Just because I’m in Walla Walla doesn’t give me any excuse to feel distanced. As a member of homo sapien I have an obligation to be concerned about my fellow humans and should fight with them for the rights they deserve and that I chanced to receive.

My disagreement with the divestment movement is the con­tinual “ anti-administration’’ at­titude the whole movement has taken at Whitman. (“MEM is our enemy and by God we’ve got to fight them!’’) Most of the discus­sions I have had with those involv­ed in the movement have always touched upon the immoral Treasurer, or the uncaring Presi­dent, not to mention the distaste for the Board of Trustees.

The administration is not the group of people that stand between Whitman students and their impact on social change in South Africa. Coca-Cola is involved heavily in South Africa, as is IBM, Ford, General Motors, Exxon, and Shell, etc. Why can’t we educate our fellow students—at Whitman and nationally-about the involve­ment of these countries? A na­tional college boycott of Coke and IBM would undoubtedly be felt. These are positive steps towards solving the problem. Coke sales at the SUB snack bar are strong, Ford still successfully aims much of its market towards college students, and many students buy IBM products. How can we attack the administration when our own buying power does not reflect the demands we place on those “evil WASP’s in MEM”? How many of our parents own stock in these companies? How many of us have patronized Exxon or Shell? How many of our parents own a Ford or General Motors vehicle?

Getting back to my point, my disagreement with the SSC boycott and teach-in centers on the call to boycott classes. The teach-in is a positive, excellent idea. The boycott seems to be the “anti-administration” philosophy once again. Kind of like, “If we don’t go to class we’ll really show them… ” 

The fact is, people like going to class. No one here is forced to go to class. Mandatory education stopped back in high school. We go to class because we’re interested in what is going to be taught, not because Dean Foster’s hired professors will inform Registrar Poulson who will tell Dean Gunsul and Dean DeRemer that a particular student at President Skotheim’s school isn’t getting out of bed early enough. 

I encourage every student to make a decision whether to attend classes or not next Tuesday. Don’t let the day drift by without con­sciously thinking and deciding what is being asked of you. I en­courage students and faculty even more strongly to participate as much as possible in the teach-in that will occur all day Tuesday.


Randy Edison, Pioneer Editor

Whitman Students for Social Change, an organization dedicated to reform through affirmative ac­tion, have requested that Whitman students boycott their classes this Tuesday to demonstrate their sup­port for Whitman’s divestment from companies which invest in South Africa. It is hoped that this cooperative action will present to the Board of Trustees the student body’s commitment to the cause of divestment and perhaps even the threat of this boycott will influence the decision of the Investment Ad­visory Board which meets this Monday.

It is unfortunate that this author has neither the knowledge nor the courage to make a public assess­ment of the practical consequences of the divestment movement. One must, however, applaud WSSC’s efforts toward genuine action and their commitment toward a goal rooted in moral concern. It is the opinion of this author, however, that a call for a boycott of classes may be both short-sighted and misdirected.

Undoubtedly, many Whitman students will be willing to skip their classes Tuesday. The urgings of WSSC will unfortunately be a fur­ther reinforcement for some peren­nials. It is less certain that these same students would be willing to skip TNC that night on behalf of divestment, and very few, one tends to believe, would fast for this same cause. 

Perhaps this skepticism toward the genuine commitment of such a demonstration is irrelevant. However, one does feel compelled to question the relevance of this class boycott for the cause of divestment. To boycott classes and lectures is to symbolically equate the classroom with the moral injustice that is being pro­tested. On the contrary, it is the privilege of higher education that has fostered the awareness of international concerns such as apar­theid. To respond to the Board of Trustees’ lack of concurring action by skipping classes in protest is more than inappropriate, it is con­trary to the message WSSC desire to present. 

This boycott will obviously be most evident to students and facul­ty members. By WSSC’s own ad­mission, however, the majority of the students and faculty at Whit­man are in favor of divestment. The Trustees, whom WSSC wishes to reach, concern themselves chief­ly with decisions on Whitman’s management that allow them to be largely unaware of the daily occurrences on campus. Thus, it ap­pears, at least to this observer, that a call for a class boycott is most likely to end as a futile demonstra­tion.

It is not the intent of this author to criticize the divestment move­ment nor find fault with the stated causes of Whitman Students for Social Change. Call this unwill­ingness journalistic cowardice, if you must. Nonetheless, the editor feels the compulsion to question the underlying reasoning and the resulting consequences from general boycott of classes.


Editor’s note: This letter from the editors serves as a reminder that student activism is by no means new to Whitman’s student body. Student organizers have been interested in divestment for decades, and it is easy to draw parallels between demands to divest from South Africa in the 1980s and 90s due to apartheid to recent activism that looks to do the same with Israel given ongoing conflict in Gaza. 

Both groups of organizers utilized similar tactics to forward their initiative: class boycotts, walkouts and occupation, often in synchronicity with other campuses nationwide. As a historian, I urge today’s readers to remember the work done by students who came before us — when we pass over the work of our predecessors, we fail to find and reflect upon through-lines that connect the student body today to the student body of the past. Historical knowledge is key to centering ourselves in conversation, and establishing a legacy with the potential to be acted upon. 

Kasey Moulton, Editor-in-Chief

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    Sarah ClarkNov 16, 2023 at 10:26 am

    It is evident that only one voice is being supported. I suspect that the unspoken voices have been harassed and are fearful. The fact that only one voice is heard, addresses the concern for the safe freedom of expression.

    Yes, we do need to evaluate our long term investments. But today each of us can use our daily change for or against a political or social value. Which companies are supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, and which ones are supporting Israel. With the same energy used for the sit-in, apply to be informed of such businesses and companies. Your daily expenditures will put money where your mouth is.