Political awareness at Whitman

Ami Tian

It’s hard not to know about the passage of the health care bill when everywhere you go you see a picture of Nancy Pelosi triumphantly descending the steps of the capitol. Such is the case when you go to a school that carries free copies of the New York Times every weekday in the university center, academic buildings, the library and the dorms.

It’s hard not to know about the G-20 Summit when there’s an army of tents set up on the cut, when your class in Baker Hall is cancelled for security reasons. Such is the case when you go to school in a city like Pittsburgh, where exciting things sometimes happen.

College life is bubble-like enough as it is. Add geographic isolation and you have the Whitman bubble. Sunny, idyllic Walla Walla is not typically a town that comes to mind when one thinks of a hotbed of political controversy or activism. Keeping up with the news is more of an effort when it doesn’t seem to impact you directly, when you don’t see it immediately, when you aren’t woken up in the middle of the night by protestors screaming outside your window. If you wanted to, you could easily choose to ignore the “real world” altogether. And sometimes the real world does slip from your mind, unintentionally: at least, in my experience.

Maybe more conscientious citizens can’t make that claim. But think about it: you could go to class, eat food, go to the library, do work (or at least try), go to some club meeting, go on a run, talk to some friends: and never would you have to leave the Whitman campus. Most Whitman students don’t have TVs. If your friends tend to bring up skiing and homework more often than they do current events (which is sometimes the case), and if you haven’t heard or seen a radio or TV or checked an online news source in some time (which is also sometimes the case), it’s entirely possible to go for days without hearing about the passage of the healthcare bill: which is not really okay.

But try to imagine a more politically conscious campus, where being aware of current events is a top priority and people discuss what’s going on in the world with urgency and interest. In this alternate reality, it’s impossible not to stay on top of things, it’s impossible not to care.

Of course, this is an idealization. Or is it really? Think about it. If even a handful of people make an effort to read some kind of news source every day and talk about it, then maybe their friends will too. And their friends’ friends, and so on. Seriously: it could happen.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m probably as guilty of this laxness as the next person (probably more so), but I swear I’m going to try harder to be politically aware. At Whitman we have to compensate for our geographic isolation by making more of an effort to stay informed about what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Living in Walla Walla can be frustrating and can sometimes feel like living in a bubble. But staying updated on the goings on of the “outside world” can remind one that there is a world outside of Whitman. And while the “outside world” might not seem that important to keep in mind on the day before you have two papers and a midterm due, the fact that you have two papers and a midterm due the next day might not stress you out so much when you keep in mind that there is a world outside of Whitman. Not to mention that it’s your duty to stay informed as a member of society. Or whatever.