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December 13, 2023: Division of Diversity & Inclusion Updates

By Division of Diversity and Inclusion

Five singers wearing light colors; the lead singer is holding a microphone, wears glasses, and has long dark hair with red highlights.

The fall semester began with two significant transitions in the Division and will end with two significant transitions.

At the end of the summer, we transitioned International Student and Scholar Services from the Division of Diversity and Inclusion over to Academic Affairs, where that unit merged with Off-Campus Studies as part of an effort to provide additional staffing and resources to support both areas. The fusion of the areas necessitated the relocation of the Director of International Student and Scholar Services from the Glover Alston Center (GAC) over to Memorial Building. This change created an opportunity for the second significant transition, which was the relocation of the Intercultural Center (IC) from Reid Campus Center over to the GAC. This shift provided the IC with more space for student and community engagement and programming, but also enabled the establishment of dedicated space for the emerging LGBTQIA+ Student Services area. 

The IC is continuing to provide student support, resources and inclusive programming to students, the Whitman community and the greater Walla Walla area this year. In addition to providing resources and support to a collection of affinity groups, the IC advised and sponsored this year’s Freedom Songs event. The theme for Freedom Songs was “Voices of Visionaries: The Revolution Begins.” The IC is also working with the Power and Privilege Symposium executive team. Planning for the signature annual event is underway and the theme for this year’s symposium is “Unmasked.” 

In September, the IC launched Living Room Conversations. Every week a different social justice/DEIA topic explored by students who discussed, shared their experiences, and questioned their beliefs in a supportive, collaborative space. Some examples of topics discussed include “How to be Anti-Racist?”; “Beyond Black & White: Exploring Our Mixed Roots”; and the “Intersectionality between Faith and Identity.” In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the IC collaborated with the Whitman Events Board (WEB), LGBTQIA+ Student Services, and the local Walla Walla community on different events to recognize and honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans in history. 

The IC also helped create a community ofrenda in the All Faiths Room to celebrate Día de Los Muertos on November 1st. All Whitman community members were invited to leave images of their loved ones to celebrate their life and memory. On November 9th, during Native American Heritage Month, the IC along with the Office of Native American Outreach, hosted the theatrical performance “According to Coyote” in Harper Joy Theatre to celebrate the stories and culture of Indigenous people. Additionally, the IC contributed to efforts to bring the inaugural Powwow to Whitman’s campus. 

As part of a developing tradition of coordinated cinematic experiences, in November, the IC took about 20 students to the local theater to view the film “Next Goals Wins.” The film centers the experiences of the American Samoa national football team and their journey to compete in the World Cup. In December, the IC arranged for about 20 students to see “Renaissance: A Film by Beyonce” to further develop peer community connections and enhance their Whitman experience. 

This past semester, the Division continued to maintain a food pantry, clothing closet and lending library to help meet student needs and support their learning and wellness on campus. The food pantry recently coordinated the delivery of Thanksgiving break food packages to over 70 students remaining on campus over break, and the clothing closet partnered with LGBTQIA+ Student Services for a gender-affirming clothing swap. 

Through the Family Connections program, the Division coordinated and sponsored campus visits for the loved ones of six different students during Family Weekend. And in partnership with colleagues at Walla Walla Community College and Walla Walla University, Whitman organized two Tri-College gatherings this semester, one for students of color and one for staff and faculty of color. 

The Division has continued the Third Space Speaker series and, with support from the Johnston-Fix Foundation, recently hosted, best-selling author and “Internet Yeller” Ijeoma Oluo on campus. Ijeoma spent time connecting with staff and students during different events leading up to her powerful public talk. A recording of the talk will be made available to Whitman community members soon. Additionally, the planning process for the tentatively titled Third Space Center continues. This repurposed campus building will offer a space on campus that centers the culture, history, images and needs of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities. As a complement to the Glover Alston Intercultural Center, which functions as a valuable solidarity space, the Third Space Center will function as an affinity and sanctuary space. All will be welcome in the Third Space Center, but the racial climate data collected in the last two years indicates the need for space on campus where communities of color know and feel they matter. The Center is expected to open to students after spring break this coming semester.

The Division has continued to support the work of the College Accessibility Committee. We have established an online mechanism to report physical obstructions on campus and are designing a webpage that will contain important information about the institution’s progress related to the developing ADA Transition Plan. We have upgraded and renewed our institutional membership with the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and look forward to continuing to build institutional capacity in this area. 

In the last four months, LGBTQIA+ Student Services has focused on planning and executing events that support the campus community through a variety of mediums: student programs, student support, and student advocacy. A significant portion of the time has been spent on (re)building relationships with campus partners and restructuring the office. The semester began with the first LGBTQIA+ community mixer. With a little over 60 attendees, LGBTQIA+ faculty, staff and students had an opportunity to meet new people, hear from community partners and get to know one another.

The office has been working with a number of student groups this semester in their programming and activities, including the Queer and Trans Students of Color (QTSOC) club, the newly established Cosmic Drag Collective (CDC) and supporting The Rocky Horror Picture Show planning team.

The office has completed the Campus Pride Index assessment and will be working on strategies with a range of campus partners and collaborators to improve the college’s 3-star rating. While 3-stars is not necessarily a poor rating on the Index, the process of completing the assessment helped to illuminate areas where improvement is possible and would enhance the LGBTQIA+ experience on campus.

Among the different student-facing programs offered by LGBTQIA+ Student Services in the fall semester, the most successful program was a Screen Printing Event organized in collaboration with the Fouts Center for Visual Arts and the First-Generation Working-Class student program. More than 142 tote bags were distributed during that event to students who could then decorate them with creative designs showcasing and celebrating their identities.

As the semester comes to a close, we are sad to announce the transition of our DEIA Project Specialist, Quin Nelson, who will be leaving the college at the end of the month. We have benefited tremendously from Quin’s contributions to the Division and to Whitman over the last eighteen months and we wish him well in his future endeavors.

Another transition for the Division is in name only. In Spring 2024, the Division will transition to a new name that is more aligned with its purpose and charge. Say goodbye to Diversity and Inclusion and say hello to Inclusive Excellence.

Published on Dec 13, 2023
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