Academic Theme 2020
Race, Violence, and Health
We are at a moment of reckoning in the United States and in the world. The struggle for human rights, social justice and expressive freedom in the face of blatant, violent racism is urgent, unswerving and outspread.
The wanton murders of Black Americans—Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, George Floyd—and the systemic racism that continues to compromise the lives of marginalized communities in the U.S. and the world have brought us to this point. These events and the legacy of discrimination around them have stirred transnational protests and commonality of purpose.
Our current duress echoes a global history that includes the ravages of transatlantic slavery, the violence of settler colonialism, and the residues of empire building in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. The traces of this past live in the operations of current institutions of security and border control, public health, education and employment.
This history, coupled with the disparate consequences of the current pandemic on marginalized populations, have brought us to our own reckoning. As an academic institution, Whitman College has an ethical obligation to examine these issues collectively. To that end, we have adopted the theme “Race, Violence and Health” for the 2020–2021 academic year to organize our community around a series of lectures, workshops, conversations and curricular offerings that will help us think, together, in a sustained way over the course of the year.
Click here to view additional Race, Violence and Health resources.
Exploring Race, Violence, and Health in Whitman Classes
Students in “Hip Hop Culture” will engage a set of radical dance practices by tracing the largely invisible roots of a global cultural form and listening to the stories of its practitioners. Lectures and discussions will alternate with the physical practice of Popping, a West Coast street style whose initial gestures were informed and inspired by the Black Panthers in Oakland, California at the same moment Hip Hop was born amidst the adversity and violence of the South Bronx. The course is part of 5th Element Project, a grant-funded endeavor focused on Hip Hop culture and, more broadly, educational access for students from different underrepresented groups in the region, including Native and Latinx students.
In this year’s iteration of “Blues, Blood, Bruise: Blackness in Art,” students will explore the problems and possibilities of modern and contemporary art as a channel for Black expression and liberation. We will consider how artists of the African diaspora have negotiated habits of racialized identification, forms of state subjugation, and the conditions of industrial and post-industrial capitalism. Students will look, listen, read, and write towards sustainable futures that survive the violence of anti-Black racism at multiple scales, and that imagine otherwise.
Race, Violence, Health: the keywords of this year’s theme highlight core elements of the vast system of racialized slavery in the United States, and thus also point us to potential sites of resistance. Violence was an accepted tool of white owners’ control; owners viewed health in terms of energy to work, control of production, and human property values. Resistance, in this view, had to be multifaceted: protecting your children, nurturing family and community, negotiating and navigating the relentless coercion and surveillance of the system, could all feature in a lifetime of strategy. These options, of course, did not preclude escape (effectively stealing one’s own self) or, increasingly, the belief that a violent regime could only fall by reciprocal violence. Readings, discussion, short papers.
Issues of race and violence are central to Greek and Roman Intellectual History. In Classics 139, we’ll give our attention to plagues as a manifestation of hidden social conditions in Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. We’ll also study how Homer’s tale of petulant personal violence climaxes in the wrathful warrior’s rapprochement with his enemy, and how Virgil’s tale of the foundation of Rome climaxes in an act of personal violence in the creation of a new hybrid nation. Later, we’ll reconsider violence in Thucydides’ narrative of Mytilene, looking at how the military violence of the Iliad and the Aeneid are versions of state violence. Reading our materials with an eye to themes of Race, Violence and Health, we’ll find our own new connections between the texts we read and the issues we consider.
Rhetoric as an academic field is concerned with symbolic communication, especially as it relates to civic and public life, and the relationship between discourse and power, both historically and in contemporary life. Students in Introduction to Rhetoric and Public Culture will interrogate the meaning of “civic life” within the contexts of antiblack violence and structural racism, as well as the work of artists, activists, writers, and other creators in protesting and resisting structures of oppression. For instance, students will learn about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and listen to Fannie Lou Hamer’s “Testimony Before the Credentials Committee” at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, supplemented by reading rhetorician Ersula Ore’s work on “Constituting the Citizen Race.” These materials will provide the basis for a discussion of the relationship between U.S. citizenship and white supremacist violence, as well as the possibilities for resisting such violence. Course work will include a project where students will work with the Whitman College Northwest Archives to produce a paper and presentation on an organization, memorial, or event from Whitman and Walla Walla’s past, related in some capacity to histories of colonialism and racism, as well as BIPOC and GLBTQ student experiences at Whitman.
Environmental Health is an interdisciplinary course which examines how the natural, built, and social environments impact human and environmental health outcomes. We use a variety of disciplinary perspectives, ranging from exposure science and epidemiology to sociology and policy studies, to explore different environmental health controversies with a particular focus on how toxic chemicals can harm people. People of color and low income communities often face disproportionate exposures to polluting facilities, and additional burdens from dangerous occupations and hazardous consumer products. The class uses case studies ranging from exposure to heavy metals among Arctic indigenous peoples to how race matters for chemical exposure from beauty products. Students develop skills and a knowledge base for critically understanding environmental health research and claims, especially how science can be used as a tool of power and the advancement of elite and corporate interests.
The Whitman Orchestra plans to partner with other Pacific Northwest college orchestras to explore the music of traditionally marginalized voices in classical music. Through discussions with guest speakers, virtual masterclasses, and a collaborative virtual recording project, the Whitman Orchestra will interrogate the symphony orchestra as a genre and institution. It will explore the ways in which the symphony orchestra has played a central role in the exclusion of BIPOC composers from classical music.
By the end of the semester, the Whitman Orchestra will post on YouTube its collaborative recording project with the other Pacific Northwest orchestras. We hope you will attend the “performance.”
Exploring ideas about bodies from the century before "germ theory" can challenge our 21st century notions of "science" and "modernity." What did it mean, for whom, to be well or unwell? How did people seek to understand how bodies work? Did they see individual bodies as functionally similar or distinctive? Reading the multicultural spaces of the 19th century U.S. raises these questions and more: changing and cross-cultural ideas about health entwined ideas about God and nature, about knowledge as reliable or suspect, about causalities from worms to weather, bloodletting to bathing, fleshy swellings to bumpy skulls. Especially for white elites, body discourse was imbricated with ideas about heredity, "race" and human variation, informing practices from childbirth to botanical classification; from engineering water supplies to collecting anatomical specimens; and from doctors' house calls to the brutality of slave markets. At the end of the semester we ask how new theories of "germs and genetics" began to shape a world of genes, microbes, and "public health" into the early 20th Century.
In the Religion Senior Seminar we think critically not only about the intersection of religion with race, violence, and health, but also about categories of knowledge, their sources, and how they are represented. This fall, we’ll be reading Ashon Crawley’s 2016 work, Blackpentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility, which is an interdisciplinary work on sound, bodies, breath, race, and religion. Crawley offers a portrait of what it might mean to think about, to write about, and to feel a religious tradition, practices, and ways of being that would seem to defy the traditional categories of knowledge and writing of the academic study of religion. What does it mean to hear religion, and to hear race? How do we discuss it? How do we write about it? How do we sense it?
This seminar will examine contemporary issues in intergroup relations focused on the perspective of diversity. We will cover the phenomena and processes associated with diversity and intergroup outcomes such as prejudice, contact, and behavior. In order to explore these topics, we will primarily focus on large societal groups that differ on cultural dimensions of identity, with a focus on race and gender. The goal of the course is to provide an overview of social psychological frameworks used to study intergroup relations, and to stimulate creative thinking and research on this topic. We highlight issues in psychology concerning lack of diversity and White supremacy in the field and need for diversification in academia, in research samples, and its benefit for social and cognitive processes. For those interested, some of the ideas and research discussed in this seminar are highlighted in an article by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the New York Times.
This survey of a diverse range of ideas and practices related to death and afterlife — past and present, religious and non-religious, Christian and Buddhist — inevitably intersects all three aspects of the 2020-2021 campus-wide theme, but this year the syllabus for Religion 103 has been retooled to highlight those intersections and subject them to critical analysis. Death by COVID-19 and racial and other forms of violence in our contemporary moment will serve as the touchstone for readings and assignments, while students assemble as a final project textual, audio and visual artifacts of those intersections together with commentary on them informed by our explorations of death and afterlife in other times and places.
This interdisciplinary course is designed to introduce students to the foundational concepts and critical debates animating the study of race and ethnicity. Interrogating categories of race and ethnicity, in the United States and globally, in contemporary and historical contexts, this course engages the many faces of racism, manifested, in particular, in settler colonialism, structural antiblackness, and color-blind ideologies. Students will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a variety antiracist frameworks and interventions. Are the causes of racism being addressed? Or are we merely treating its symptoms? Resisting the temptation to treat race in isolation—and thus distort its origins and effects—we will be attentive to interlocking oppressions, constantly returning to intersectional considerations, relating race/ethnicity back to class, gender, sexuality, and other identity markers.
The discourse of modern architecture in the early 20th Century was preoccupied with ideas of human physical and psychological wellbeing. Buildings maximized for exposure to light and air, and for the smooth circulation of bodies in open space, became the criteria for good design and a good life. In the final unit of “Mayhem, Machines, Manifestos: Modernism in Art and Architecture,” students are considering how this new and socially progressive mechanism for human health was also steeped in the familiar desires of white European architects and their publics, and practices of colonial conquest. Why was a generic Arab marketplace photomontaged onto a popular image of a 1920s German housing estate? What racial and sexual fantasies produced the designs for a house for Josephine Baker? What was the value in spatially choreographing the “penguiness” of penguins in the modernized London Zoo? Whitman’s 2020-21 academic theme is prompting these and similar questions, which explore the violence of architectural modernism on specific racialized bodies and in relation to its utopian dreams of universal happiness.
As part of the Whitman U.S.-Mexico Border Program and in collaboration with community partners at the Earlham College Border Studies Program, Whitman students will virtually travel to the Arizona-Sonora border this fall to learn about race, violence, and health as it affects immigrant lives. There, students will spend time in dialog with community leaders, government officials, immigrant rights activists, and migrants in an effort to understand how the U.S-Mexico border got to be the way it is today, and how it could be different. Students will participate in ten panels featuring prominent border community leaders and immigrant rights activists with a focus on topics such as border militarization, racialized policing on the border, colonialism and Indigenous resilience on the border, asylum policy, and the politics of migrant and border community wellness. After each panel discussion, Whitman students will analyze and reflect on what they’re learning in small groups, with a goal of intellectual engagement and community building.
In Our Communities
Coming together to build antiracist communities.
Some dreams so far…
- “Being at an off campus house party and dancing with all my best friends—needless to say, I was very sad to wake up from that dream and wished it was real :(”
- “I have dreams that I’m not wearing a mask riding on public transport or in class and everyone approaches me without distancing. I wake up sweating and afraid”
- “I had a dream about partying with two giant colorful beetles!!”
Artwork by @bekah.arts_.
Maxey Museum, April 30 – July 30. 2021
An exhibition devoted to the Confluence Project and Maya Lin will take place at Whitman College’s Maxey Museum in late spring and summer of 2021. The Confluence Project is a series of six earthworks designed by Lin and situated at historically significant points of contact between settler colonists, Indigenous peoples, species, and ecologies along the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington. The show is featured as part of the international initiative Extraction: Art at the Edge of the Abyss, devoted to art and artists whose work addresses the environment and climate change. Maxey Museum will display archival materials about the construction of the Confluence Project sites while addressing how the development of the Columbia River as an extractive resource was, and continues to be, shaped by legacies of racialized disenfranchisement, displacement and violence over the past two centuries.
What is LTT?
A way to reflect on the current moment, your ongoing life experiences, and be informed and inspired by others in the Walla Walla Valley community.
Fostering joyful and restorative antiracist reflection on community health and wellness in recognition of the past, present, and future intricacies brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
How It Works
- Sign-up via the Google Form link below.
- Receive a twice-weekly (Mon./Fri.) emailed reflection prompt
- Respond to the prompt with a word, phrase, or couple sentences on a shared Google Doc.
For more information contact Kelsey Martin.
Whitman College and Northwest Archives is creating a digital archive of the Walla Walla community’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in collaboration with students in Library 160: Documentation and Representation in Archives, the Whitman Coronavirus Stories Project focusing on experiences at the College. Both projects remain open for submissions of stories, including written work, audio or video recordings, photographs, or creative projects. In particular, we encourage submissions from immigrant and other marginalized communities that reflect the intersections of race, violence and health in Walla Walla during COVID-19. Both projects seek to interrogate the dominant cultural records and narratives that are represented in archival collections, and seek counterstories from those voices who have been excluded. The Walla Walla Coronavirus Stories project emphasizes stories from the Latinx community in Walla Walla, and interviews are available in English and Spanish.
Rest as Resistance is a platform to build community through engaging in planning and executing workshops, talks, live events, interviews, or any other content surrounding anti-racism, activism, and wellness.
Global Context: Short Courses and Internships
Opportunities for students to engage on a global scale, through Off-Campus Studies and special-topics courses taught by visiting educators in coordination with the Center for Global Studies.
IDSC 152 ST, February 16 to March 30
Instructor: Anna Taft (Whitman ’02), O’Donnell Visiting Scholar
Drawing on the insights of a variety of speakers from both Ecuador and Mali, this course will address issues in the contemporary dynamics and valorization efforts of the Kichwa and Tommo So languages. Themes will include developing and standardizing writing systems for oral languages, developing educational materials and books, teaching local languages to various audiences, personal significance of valorizing one’s own language, resources and partnerships for linguistic work, multilingualism, and community language dynamics. Students will be asked to read and view course material, prepare for discussion, participate in discussion sessions, and complete one project. May be taken to fulfill “Global Engagement” or count toward the “Analysis & Reflection” components of the Global Studies concentration. Course runs from 2/16/21 (Week 4) to 3/30/21 (Week 10). Graded Credit/No Credit.
Whitman’s Off-Campus Studies (OCS) is collaborating with IES Abroad and SIT Study Abroad to give Whitman juniors an opportunity to enroll in a 3- or 4-credit Global Virtual Internship & Seminar Courses in 2020-21. These courses, taught by IES and SIT faculty overseas, are coupled with remote internship placements around the world. OCS is subsidizing the IES and SIT tuition so that it is free of charge to juniors enrolled at Whitman this year.
Eleven Whitman juniors took advantage of this opportunity in Fall 2020 participating in one of the following internship courses:
- SIT Chile: Education & Social Change Organizations
- SIT Kenya: Public Health & the COVID Pandemic in the Tropics
- SIT Jordan: Community Empowerment & Sustainable Environments
- SIT South Africa: Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution & International Relations
In Spring 2021, another eleven Whitman students are participating in the following internships:
- IES Barcelona: Biological Sciences
- IES Berlin: Political Science and German language
- IES London: Psychology/Healthcare or Graphic Design
- IES Vienna: Music Performance
- SIT Ecuador: Environment, Conservation & Ecosystems
- SIT Kenya: Public Health & the COVID Pandemic in the Tropics
- SIT Serbia: Transitional Justice, Human Rights & Memory Activism
- SIT South Africa: Diplomacy, Conflict Resolution & International Relations
October 19 to November 4
Dr. Robert Jacobs, O’Donnell Visiting Scholar
This course will expose students to the racial and colonial history of nuclear violence, with particular attention to the health effects of nuclear weapons development and production in the U.S., use in Japan, and subsequent testing throughout the Cold War era around the world. Many in the West think of the Cold War as an era that averted a catastrophic nuclear war through the successful operations of the doctrine of deterrence. Yet for many in the colonial and postcolonial developing world where nuclear weapons were being tested on average every 9.6 days throughout the Cold War, it was a war that actually happened. The health effects on those working on weapons development and those enduring weapons testing was also actively obscured through scientific models developed by the United States in the aftermath of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Demonstrating the intimate connections between race, violence, and health in the nuclear world, this class will explore the experiences of those who were victims of nuclear production and use and grapple with the ecological and social legacies of Cold War radiological contaminations and waste.
For more information please contact Professor Shampa Biswas.
September 14 to October 19
Anna Taft (Whitman ’02), O’Donnell Visiting Scholar
Drawing on the insights of a variety of speakers from both Ecuador and Mali, this course will address issues in the experience of the pandemic, encouraging students to draw comparisons between their own experiences and those of speakers from these two very different contexts. It will also address intersections of race and culture with health care more generally. Themes will include scarcity of resources for mitigating the pandemic, relationships between government ministries, NGOs, and other actors, data and reporting, and cultural factors affecting response to COVID-19, as well as relationships between Western and local medicine in both contexts, racial disparities in access to health care in Ecuador, and transnational collaborations on health care work. Students will be asked to read and view course material, prepare for discussion, participate in discussion sessions, and complete one project. May be taken to fulfill “Global Engagement” or count toward the “Analysis & Reflection” components of the Global Studies concentration. Graded Credit/No Credit.
For more information please contact Associate Professor Leena Knight.