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February 15, 2023: Spring 2023 Division Update

A group of students, many holding small glass globes.

The Division of Diversity and Inclusion has been actively contributing to institutional efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism at the college. The work of the Division is trifurcated operationally and exercises horizontal influence across the institution. Our three operational areas include: Identity and Belonging, Equity and Compliance, and Inclusive Excellence. The following is a brief update highlighting some activities and achievements since our last update.

Identity and Belonging

LGBTQIA+ Student Services

Still in its first year, LGBTQIA+ Student Services is establishing and developing resources to support the Whitman LGBTQIA+ community and provide valuable learning opportunities for our non-LGBTQIA+ identifying folks. 

The Director of LGBTQIA+ Student Services, Rachel Freeman-Cohen, continues to work with and support affinity clubs focused on LGBTQIA+ students at the college. Through one-to-one check-ins and structured opportunities for community building and discussion, LGBTQIA+ Student Services is finding new ways to serve the community. 

A weekly discussion group called Queer Coded, to discuss all things queer and pop culture, was launched at the beginning of the spring term. Queer Ally Coalition (QuAC) workshops continue to be available this semester with new additions to the 3-part series. QuAC workshops provide attendees with foundational knowledge of the LGBTQIA+ community; tools to interrogate and understand cisgender and heterosexual privilege; and skills to function as a co-conspirator or accomplice in efforts to dismantle systems of LGBTQIA+ oppression.  

With national Pride celebrations traditionally occurring annually in June when classes are not in session, LGBTQIA+ Student Services is organizing Whitman Pride activities for April this year. A Community Pride Picnic is being planned for Saturday April 1st in collaboration with the Whitman Events Board, Residence Life, Student Activities and the Intercultural Center. Additional activities and opportunities to celebrate Pride will also occur during the month. 

LGBTQIA+ Student Services is soliciting applications for the David Nord Award. An application review committee has been constructed that includes staff and faculty. Additionally, planning for Lavender Graduation is underway. The annual LGBTQIA+ graduation celebration has been dormant for a few years, but will return this spring and is scheduled for May 10th. 

As part of a professional development plan, the Director of LGBTQIA+ Student Services, will be traveling to San Francisco later this month to attend Creating Change. Creating Change is a national conference for LGBTQ movement through policy, leadership, and skill-building. Knowledge gained at the conference, as well as connections made through the professional networking opportunities it affords, will enhance LGBTQIA+ initiatives and program development here at the college. 

Intercultural Center

The Intercultural Center (IC) continues to create affirming opportunities for student engagement and provide support to our many affinity groups. Last semester, the IC rented out a local theater for a private screening of the Marvel blockbuster film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. This program provided an opportunity for community connection and a diverse cross-section of Whitman community members attended the screening. 

The IC, in collaboration with Student Activities, organized a panel last semester that featured a trio of tenured and visiting faculty of color. The panel focused on the complexities of identity, navigating higher education spaces, and the pitfalls of building community based on supercategory classifications. The panel also provided students with the opportunity to meet and connect with visiting faculty they may not have had the opportunity to engage with otherwise, including the Arnold Visiting Professor in Environmental Humanities, Camile Dungy, who was only here for the fall term. 

In January, the IC continued the tradition of the annual MLK Day peace march. The Intercultural Center Director, Tebraie Banda-Johns, gathered participants at Reid Campus Center where  they created posters and signs to commemorate the day. The march began on the Whitman campus and then traveled to the Walla Walla plaza where the group reconvened for a program of music, speeches, and short talks to honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Intercultural Center has developed a series of events to honor Black brilliance during Black History Month. The different programmatic offerings for the heritage month include a guest presentation on how Black college students learn code-switching, a celebration of Black queer icons, holding space to focus on (and provide resources to support) Black mental health, and film screenings that showcase Black resilience. The full slate of BHM programs can be found here.

For the last several months, the IC Director and DEIA Program Coordinator have provided advising and logistical support to the student organizers of the Power and Privilege Symposium. The keynote speaker for P&P this year will be Loretta J. Ross. Additional information about the events being organized for this annual campus-wide learning event can be found here.

Religious and Spiritual Life

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) continues to organize a wide range of programming and community engagement opportunities, and is looking forward to a full spring schedule of offerings which aim to support the broad spectrum of spiritual expression on Whitman's campus.  

RSL is working closely with five student organizations focused on supporting different faith traditions and student constituencies. Those groups are: Kehillat Shalom, Muslim Student Association, Whitman Zen Club, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and South Asian Student Association. One of the two inclusion fellows hired by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is tasked with providing and facilitating support for these groups from RSL.  

Over the last several months, the Interfaith Chaplain has provided a range of support to the community through individual care to students in a one-on-one setting, helping plan a celebration of life service for a Whitman colleague who passed away, and partnering with LGBTQIA+ Student Services to organize a memorial space following an incident of identity-based violence in Colorado.

RSL has a menu of regular programs and services to address the varied needs of the Whitman community. Last semester’s Big Tent Gatherings and the Decolonizing Christianity Bible Study are not among the spring program offerings, but Spirituali-TEA and grieving@whitman (two drop-in style spaces for reflection and conversation) continue this semester. New initiatives from RSL include an interview style podcast, Complicating the Narrative, that engages members of the Whitman community and expands the idea of vocation and spiritual connection to work, study, and play. In addition, thanks to the advent of the new All Faiths Room in the Reid Campus Center, RSL has created a Tiny Altar Concert Series, which is a rotating performance of spoken word and/or music performed by members of the Whitman community in the space. 

Over the last few months, RSL has also been able to establish partnerships with two religious organizations in Walla Walla. On the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, RSL hosts Walla Walla’s Dharma Sangha Zen Community for a brief Dharma talk followed by 20 to 30 minute silent meditation. Through a collaboration with Walla Walla Catholic Parishes, there is also a Catholic Mass offered on the first and third Saturdays of the month. 

Later this month, as part of a professional development plan, Interfaith Chaplain Adam Kirtley will travel to Atlanta, GA to attend the annual meeting of the Association for Chaplaincy and Spiritual Life in Higher Education. 

International Student and Scholar Services

For International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), the spring 2023 semester began with a mini Orientation session for Whitman’s 3 new international students. The new students and returning students place the current tally of F-1 international students (including those who graduated and remain in country on OPT internships) at 196, with 3 additional J-1 Exchange Visitors and an F-2 guest on our roster as well.

The Union-Bulletin recently published a series of articles profiling several Whitman international students. A significant number of international students at Whitman are part of the Davis United World College program. Earlier this semester, ISSS and Rachna Sinott from Grants and Foundation Relations, organized the annual UWC Globe Ceremony, where first year UWC students received a glass globe that represents their leadership potential and commemorates their UWC experience at Whitman. 

ISSS continues to provide international students with resources and critical information for their matriculation through a dedicated Canvas site, e-newsletter, and regular in-person meetings. In addition to the information sharing and administrative updates, ISSS organizes programming to round out the international student experience. In recent months, ISSS has organized an international student bowling night, a trip to the laser tag facility in Richland, several activities in collaboration with Outdoor Programs, and a number of smaller community building events on campus.

With so many international students remaining on campus or in Walla Walla during campus closures, a number of resources and activities for students were organized to help meet student needs. ISSS, in collaboration with several other units, coordinated a Thanksgiving event, a shopping trip to Tri-Cities, and a number of small programs at the Glover Alston Center to promote student wellbeing during the break. 

ISSS Director, Greg Lecki, continues to build the infrastructure necessary to adequately support the nearly 200 international students at Whitman. In December, he conducted site visits and informational interviews with the staff of international student program offices at a number of higher education institutions in the region. Through these visits, he was able to gather information about promising practices and advances in the field of international student support. Additionally, as part of a professional development plan, Greg attended the regional conference for NAFSA (Association of International Educators) in Spokane, WA.

Equity and Compliance

As the needs of the College expand to pre-COVID era volume, the Office of Equity and Compliance continues the work of building a pool of trained advisors to assist individuals undergoing Whitman College resolution processes. Unlike outsourced advisors, Whitman community-based resolution advisors have the benefit of proximity and familiarity with campus culture. At this time, Whitman College only has a handful of resolution process advisors and invite folks interested in supporting the work of ensuring a safe and inclusive campus to contact the Director of Equity and Compliance, Cassandre Beccai. 

In December 2022, we announced the departure of our Sexual Assault Victims Advocate (SAVA), Malia Lewis. Whitman partners with the YWCA to bring a qualified SAVA to campus to provide crisis intervention and general advocacy to Whitman College constituents experiencing sexual abuse and domestic violence. The Walla Walla YWCA has identified a new SAVA who is currently being trained and preparing for their Whitman placement. Once the details of their arrival to campus is finalized, the College will make an announcement.

The Office of Equity and Compliance has compiled data from disclosures of sex and gender-based misconduct during the 2021–2022 academic year. The report can be found here and is offered to promote transparency in order to help foster a supportive environment for our students and employees. 

Inclusive Excellence

The College Accessibility Committee has reconvened this semester and is actively reviewing a report completed by an external consultant that evaluates the institution’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The review is one of several steps in the construction of a Transition Plan that will guide our path to ADA compliance. The Committee is also taking steps to establish lactation spaces on campus and organizing a workshop for the campus community on combating ableism. 

The Division continues to provide the campus community with valuable professional development opportunities. The start of the spring semester was punctuated by Community Learning Days activities. Community Learning Days is a collection of DEIA-related workshops/education sessions held prior to the start of the semester intended to contribute to faculty and staff learning and skill building. This year, the campus was visited by two outstanding scholars (Dr. Rema Vassar and Dr. Kathy Obear) who provided valuable content on inclusive pedagogy, racial equity strategies, and navigating identity-based differences in the workplace. 

The Division is also supporting DEIA efforts across campus with a mini-grant program. DEIA Cultivation Grants are intended to support projects, programs, events and initiatives that Whitman community members (students, staff and faculty) are coordinating or pursuing that advance diversity, equity, inclusion or antiracism efforts at the college. A detailed description of the different projects that have been supported through the mini-grant program will be provided at the end of the semester, but sponsored projects include guest speakers focused on diversity in the outdoors, community wellness activities, and a cultural spaces art exhibit just to name a few. Applications for 2023–2024 mini-grants will open near the end of the spring semester.

Earlier this month, the Division began accepting nominations for Inclusive Excellence Awards. The awards recognize individuals and student clubs that make important contributions to inclusive excellence during the academic year. Nominations are being accepted through the end of March and award recipients will be announced at a recognition ceremony in May. Additional information about the Inclusive Excellence Awards can be found here

The Inclusive Excellence Council, has officially been established and held its first meeting in January. The IEC is supported by the Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, Natasha Blake, and is composed of faculty, staff, students and an alumni member. The IEC functions as an extension of the Division of Diversity and Inclusion and council members assist in transforming recommendations for DEIA strategic priorities into feasible and measurable goals. Through subcommittees, the IEC is also helping to coordinate and edify the DEIA Cultivation Grant program, Inclusive Excellence Awards, Community Learning Days, and increase community participation and literacy with climate surveys and accountability metrics.

The Division of Diversity and Inclusion continues to assist departments in developing unit-specific plans to advance inclusive excellence. Utilizing a framework based on the constructs from the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates, the Division is collaborating with several units across campus in the design of customized plans to improve their formal efforts around racial mattering and affirmation, racial learning and literacy, responding to racial stress, and addressing racial injustice in the local community. 

In collaboration with Human Resources, the Division of Diversity and Inclusion once again provided training on Inclusive and Equitable Hiring Practices for the spring semester. A two-part training for hiring managers, part one focused on bias and counterbias strategies that was designed and delivered by the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion. Part two of the training was delivered by HR and is focused on understanding the steps in the recruitment process and maintaining equity throughout. 

The DEIA Program Coordinator, Quin Nelson, continues to refine and renovate the Glover Alston Center to effectively host diversity and social justice programs, and provide access to basic needs services (food pantry, lending library, and clothing closet). These services are meant to benefit the entire community, including Whitman’s FG/WC (First-Generation/Working Class) community. The DEIA Program Coordinator is also leading a project to build an intentional and sustainable relationship between Whitman and a local non-profit organization focused on successful transition and reentry (STAR) programs for formerly incarcerated community members. Funded through a NW5C Partnership Development Grant, the DEIA Program Coordinator is facilitating collaboration with the STAR Project and other community partners to develop a storytelling program to benefit STAR and its clients.  

Prompted by the results from the NACCC student survey and guided by a commitment to providing affirming spaces for students, the Division has begun the planning phases for the, tentatively titled, Third Space Center. An existing rental unit is being converted to serve as a sanctuary space and programming hub for events and activities focused on the needs and concerns of marginalized communities of color. The space, which will be open to all members of the Whitman community, will feature BIPOC-centering aesthetic elements in its interior design and respond to the belonging and safety needs articulated by students of color at Whitman. The space is expected to come online near the start of the 2023–24 academic year. 

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