The 23rd annual Whitman Undergraduate Conference took place on April 13, 2021, a celebration of the research, scholarship and creativity of Whitman students.

This year’s virtual WUC was a reminder that necessity affords opportunity. Poster presenters and audience members gathered in a simulated Cordiner Hall to share research interests. Panel session presentations in Zoom rooms included live question-and-answer rounds after each prerecorded PowerPoint talk. 

The college’s “Race, Violence and Health” academic theme this year has captured and challenged the Whitman community through guest lectures, fresh curriculum, collaborative and independent research projects, and diverse student initiatives. This year’s WUC included three full panel sessions on RVH themes.

The conference also featured panel sessions dedicated to Computer Science projects and Psychology studies. Three prerecorded musical events complemented the panel and poster sessions. 


Although the day of the conference has passed, the opportunity to experience its video and poster presentations will remain.

View the conference grid schedule for a general overview of events, session participants and Zoom links.

Expand the panel session sections below for more details on the participants, including presentation videos and abstracts.

All panel session presentations are also available in the 2021 Whitman Undergraduate Conference YouTube playlist.

Panel Session One: 9-10:15 a.m.

Ava Liponis, moderator

Seasons Change Rocks: Quantifying Internal Rock Moisture Over Time

Weathering shapes landscapes by turning solid bedrock into rock fragments (physical weathering) and by chemical disintegration (chemical weathering). A third process, subcritical cracking, which has properties of both, has recently been suggested to be another fundamental process in the breakdown of rock. The rates of all types of weathering are influenced by environmental conditions within the rock. In my research, I quantify internal rock moisture to better understand how field-scale variability in environmental conditions influences rock weathering at Spring Gulch near Wallula Gap. I found that rocks on north-facing slopes maintained cooler temperatures and wetted earlier in rainy winter months compared to rocks on an adjacent south-facing slope. Further, I found that seasonality plays a strong role in pore vapor pressure within bedrock of north and south aspects.
Faculty Sponsor: Lyman Persico
Research Funding Source: Abshire Student Research Scholar Award

Forward Modeling to Reproduce the Compositional Evolution of Mount Carlisle Volcano, Alaska

Mount Carlisle is one of Alaska’s several Holocene Aleutian Arc volcanoes that has not been assessed for geologic hazards. Carlisle stands at 1,620 meters with a basal radius of 7.5 kilometers. Mount Cleveland, similar in size and composition, is less than 10 kilometers from Mount Carlisle, and recently erupted explosively sending ash over 1000 kilometers away. I use geochemical data in a thermodynamically-based phase equilibria modeling program, MELTS, to constrain the pre-eruptive conditions of a suite of 24 samples from Mount Carlisle lavas. Using different pressures, water contents, and redox conditions allowed the resulting models to constrain the magma conditions of the sample suite through comparing the models to the sample compositions. Initial results suggest water constituting 0-4% by weight and low pressure (shallow) pre-eruptive conditions. The combination of intermediate silica content (viscous magma), shallow depths, water, and extended periods of inactivity indicate the potential for Carlisle to erupt explosively.
Faculty Sponsor: Kirsten Nicolaysen
Research Funding Source: Abshire Student Research Scholar Award

Exploring Bottlenecks in Dark Matter Bound State Formation

One of the prevailing mysteries of modern cosmology is the nature of dark matter. I examine the possibility of an asymmetric dark matter model that allows for the formation of bound states analogous to nuclei. Due to the lack of a Coulomb-like repulsion, these bound states could consist of trillions of particles if there are no bottlenecks to formation for two- or three-particle bound states. I consider two possible causes of such bottlenecks and demonstrate that if the conditions to form a two-body bound state are met, there will be no bottlenecks to formation of larger bound states. These large bound states have interesting implications for astrophysics, particularly the field of galactic dynamics and evolution.
Faculty Sponsor: Moira Gresham

9:45 a.m. LIAM DUBAY
Late-Onset Circumstellar Medium Interactions Are Rare: An Unbiased GALEX View of Type Ia Supernovae

We constrain the ultraviolet (UV) light curves and circumstellar environment of over 1000 type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia) within z<0.5 using archival Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) observations. We look for the UV excess expected from the strong interaction between the SN ejecta and circumstellar material (CSM). Indeed, in a recently published Hubble Space Telescope (HST) UV survey of late-time SNe Ia, SN 2015cp was observed to undergo a strong CSM interaction ∼700 days after maximum light. However, in our GALEX sample we find no evidence of CSM interaction despite 68 of our SNe Ia having detection limits deeper than the previous UV detection in SN 2015cp. Through injection-recovery of model light curves into our data, we exclude a range of possible interaction start times and peak luminosities. We combine our GALEX non-detections with the published HST survey to constrain the occurrence rate of late-onset CSM interaction among SNe Ia.
Faculty Sponsor: Andrea Dobson
Research Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Alyssa Ortiz, moderator

Measuring the Performance of DENSE

DENSE (Differential Equation Network Simulation Engine) is a mathematical simulator of biological and chemical molecular processes. Some advantages of DENSE over rival simulators include the incorporation of delay differential equations, on-line analysis and more efficient runtimes. Research on DENSE is conducted in the Stratton Lab in the Computer Science Department at Whitman College. My contributions for the project centered around the application of experimental methodology to measure simulator performance, enabling our team to pinpoint the reasons for our performance benefits over other simulators. I created an algorithm for tracking runtime, and implemented a fresh method of simulation and analysis to demonstrate the performance advantages in those fields. Unique to this research was the application of scientific methodology to test software, which is less typical than the normal applications of such methodology.
Faculty Sponsor: John Stratton
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Small Organic Acids Inhibit Semijunctive Nickel Transfer and Influence Bioavailability

Metal micronutrients are crucial for life, but many environments are micronutrient deficient due to low concentration of bioavailable metal species. The exchange of ligands (organic compounds that bind to metals) between metal ions determines metal bioavailability, which has implications for the growth of bacteria, fungi and plants -- including those relied on for food. Previous research by the Boland Lab indicates that certain small organic acids abundant in natural soils catalyze ligand exchange reactions when they follow a disjunctive pathway -- one in which the initial metal-ligand complex completely dissociates before ligand exchange occurs. I hypothesize that these same organic acids (ethylenediamine, oxalate, and glycine) inhibit reactions that follow a semijunctive pathway, which requires only partial dissociation of the initial metal-ligand complex before exchange. Experiments on semijunctive ligand exchange on nickelate anions between pH 7-10 suggest that each of these acids do inhibit the ligand exchange reaction.
Faculty Sponsor: Nate Boland
Research Funding Source: M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust

9:30 a.m. NGAN TRAN
Sex Differences in Mitochondrial Gene Profiles Determine CVB3 Myocarditis Severity

[Video unavailable due to its content of unpublished data.]

Myocarditis, or inflammation in the myocardium, is a leading cause of sudden death for children and adults under 50. Our previously published work has shown that there is a higher incidence of myocarditis in men than in women, with a ratio of 3.5 to 1. Sex differences in immune responses to coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3)-induced myocarditis have been well characterized. However, other mechanisms that pertain to energetics and remodeling are not well understood. My colleagues and I performed a transcriptomics study to determine whether mitochondrial sex differences exist during myocarditis. Since CVB3 targets mitochondria, we hypothesized the existence of sex differences in mitochondrial genes that would enhance myocarditis severity in males and protect against severe disease in females. We found that males and females enriched different pathways under acute and chronic CVB3 myocarditis. Our results show that mitochondrial gene pathways are enriched in males and are critical for sex-dependent CVB3 pathogenesis.
Faculty Sponsor: Michael Coronado
Research Funding Sources: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, Mayo Clinic, M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, National Institutes of Health

Identification of Novel DNA-Wrapping Proteins

[Video unavailable due to its content of unpublished data.]

DNA contains the genetic information for all processes essential for life. Core histones are proteins that package DNA: histones are like beads on a string with DNA wrapped around them, and different degrees of wrapping can influence the expression of genes. Core histones are extremely important for cellular function, so remarkably so that similar versions are found in organisms as distant as yeast and humans! There are also histone variants that can replace core histones and offer diverse functionality. Interestingly, these histone variants can undergo rapid evolution. To uncover novel histone variants in mammalian lineages and determine if they are rapidly evolving, I used online databases and software tools to analyze and compare DNA and protein sequences. Our lab found at least four histone variants in mammals, some of which are rapidly evolving. This research advances our understanding of histone variants and will aid in the discovery of novel functions.
Faculty Sponsor: Brit Moss
Research Funding Source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Novel Anti-Neoplastic Agents

The human 26S proteasome is an enzyme responsible for breaking down proteins involved in the cell cycle. Inhibition of the proteasome can induce death in cancer cells and is thus a target of anti-neoplastic drugs. Clinically approved proteasome inhibitors, while highly potent, cause a number of negative side effects due to lack of selectivity. Therefore, a strong need exists for new inhibitors that are potent and only target the proteasome. We seek to combine the structure and function of the naturally occurring inhibitor TMC-95 with that of the FDA approved drug, carfilzomib, to develop a novel class of potent and selective inhibitors. The target compound of this research, a large cyclic peptide, confers potency via strong irreversible binding to the proteasome active site, and selectivity via a large rigid structure that is tuned to fit only within the proteasome active site and not within other enzymes in the human cell.
Faculty Sponsor: Marion Götz
Research Funding Sources: Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Faculty-Student Summer Research Award, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation

Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz, moderator

Jaywalking in Ancient Greece: Plato and the Law

Plato’s Republic examines the “kallipolis,” a vision of an ideal city, looking at its structure to determine what justice is. A common claim about this kallipolis is that it is a utopian project. Yet, Plato is actually pessimistic about parts of the human condition and frames his society around limiting parts of it through law. In my presentation, I explore the role of legalism in Platonic philosophy: Why do we need laws? What are the multiple functions they serve? I extend my analysis into a modern context regarding violence and health, and how Plato’s use of the law as a philosophic tool yields answers about those topics.
Faculty Sponsor: Michelle Jenkins

Would You Defund the Police? Examining the Effects of Perceptions of Racism on Social Dominance Orientation and Police Reform

Research shows that systemic racism exists within policing. Yet, many communities and social movements are resistant to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call to defund the police. Our research explores whether the relationship between social dominance orientation and police reform are explained by participants' perceptions of racism as either individual or systemic. Social dominance theory seeks to understand why we maintain a discriminatory social hierarchy in our society by examining individuals' preferences between a hierarchical system and an equitable system. Our sample comprises Whitman community members and Walla Walla residents. Participants completed a social dominance orientation measure and a racism measure. They then reported how much they would fund different social programs, including police departments. Our study will help psychologists understand how framing racism as individual or systemic may influence support for policy such as police reform.
Faculty Sponsor: Stephen Michael
Research Funding Source: Department of Psychology

The Deterioration of the American Dream

The American Dream is one of the most popular aspirations of immigrants. As an ideology, the American Dream suggests a future full of equal opportunity for everyone. But how, in actuality, does this dream manifest for undocumented immigrants? Undocumented immigrants to the United States face severe hardships, beginning with dangerous border crossings and continuing through daily injustices. My presentation focuses on Mexican migrations and illustrates the complications in the promise of the sueño americano (American Dream) through three songs: "Corrido de Juanito" by Calibre 50, "Frijolero" by Molotov, and "Mojado” by Ricardo Arjona and Intocable. Though these songs are typically catalogued in distinct musical genres, we can classify them more broadly as corridos, Spanish-language narrative ballads, because they use the traditional instruments of bandas or conjuntos norteños and share common themes in the immigrant experience.
Faculty Sponsor: Aaron Aguilar-Ramirez

9:45 a.m. ANNA KILO
How Second-Generation Mexican-Americans Become Catalysts for Gentefication

My presentation examines the process of assimilation in the United States with a primary focus on second-generation Mexican-Americans. Assimilation challenges the cultural identity of individuals, which has led to the coining of a new term, gentefication, for Mexican-Americans. Through the Netflix series "Gentefied" by Marvin Lemus and Linda Yvette Chávez, I examine the experience of assimilation into American culture from the perspective of three cousins in the series: Erik, the father to be; Chris, the whitewashed chef; and Ana, the homosexual artist. Through the diverse experiences of each character, assimilation is seen as an undulating experience. As a result, Erik, Chris and Ana are forced to see how assimilation has ultimately affected their community. "Gentefied" reveals that second-generation Mexican-Americans, in their assimilation to U.S. culture, amplify the struggles brought to their communities by gentrification. Ultimately, it causes them to become, unconsciously, catalysts of gentefication.
Faculty Sponsor: Janice Be

Nominal Hegemony, Violence, and Humanity in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

In his 1845 memoir, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass addresses the realities and recounts the trauma of growing up in slavery until his escape at age 20. Narrative is characterized by an unapologetic representation of the barbarous psychology of slavery, a presentation of self-conscious reflection that challenges Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. In my presentation, I discuss the representational act of naming in its twofold portrayal as the denial and assertion of humanity in Douglass’ Narrative. The institution of slavery is represented as reliant on the designated otherness of slaves and the rupture of solidarity of shared names, while the self-mediated process of naming signifies an effectuation of autonomy. I also contextualize the act of naming through Foucault’s conception of names as “technologies of the self.”
Faculty Sponsor: Adam Gordon

Adam Rooney, moderator

Walla Walla Cares for Kids Data Project

The Walla Walla Cares for Kids data project, a partnership between the Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition and Whitman College, was conducted from February to December of 2020. The project spans Walla Walla County and focuses on children from birth to age 5. The goal of the project is to improve the availability of data on early learning so that early-learning practitioners, families, schools, employers, policymakers, and other stakeholders have a comprehensive overview of early learning in the county, including an indication of where the community is strong and where improvement is needed. Robust early-learning resources are essential for Walla Walla County to thrive, as early learning has a significant impact on overall community health. In my presentation, I outline the process and framework of the project and share the main takeaways from my experience as a research assistant.
Faculty Sponsor: Michelle Janning
Research Funding Source: Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Building Bridges and Bitmojis: How Segregation and Contact Influence Preferences

Children’s racial/ethnic preferences, biases, and prejudices are likely impacted by many factors in their environment. Using the intergroup contact hypothesis, we examined the influence of the racial/ethnic diversity of schools, neighborhoods, and families on children’s self-views and peer preferences. We recruited 5- to 10-year-old children and asked them to create Bitmojis of themselves and four imaginary friends. With Bitmoji, an application by which users create a personal avatar, children in our study had complete control over the appearance of their avatar and those of their imaginary friends. Options included hairstyle, face shape, eye shape and color, and even clothing. In our study, we focused on skin color and gender preferences. We hypothesized that the racial and ethnic composition of a child’s environment would influence their racial preferences. Our study helps to address the influence of school systems on a child’s formation of racial and ethnic preferences, biases, and prejudice.
Faculty Sponsor: Erin Pahlke

Children's Perceptions of Prisons: A Family Perspective

While many studies have explored adults' perceptions of prison, little is known about how children think about prisons. The sparse literature that does exist tends to focus on the psychological well-being of children with incarcerated family members. There is good reason to extend this research and consider how children’s family connections to prison may influence their understanding of prison systems. For our study, we used Bronfenbrenner’s developmental model as a basis to explore the interplay between the child, the microsystem of the family, and the exosystem of the prison. We hypothesize that children’s views of prisons are related to their familial connections to prison. To test this hypothesis, we interviewed children ages 8 to 14 about their perceptions of the safety and fairness of prisons. The results of this mixed-methods study will provide important knowledge about children’s views of prisons.
Faculty Sponsor: Erin Pahlke

Influence of the Attentional Boost Effect on Encoding False Facts in College Students

Our presentation focuses on a quirk of memory known as the attentional boost effect. It is widely believed that divided attention is detrimental to long-term memory. Yet, there are certain conditions by which information is encoded as well or better with divided attention as it is with full attention. We hope to expand on Swallow and Jiang’s original findings (2010) by replacing images with verbal materials and testing participants’ memory for facts rather than for events. We hypothesize that a word presented with a target stimulus that requires a response is more likely given as an incorrect answer to general knowledge questions than a word presented without a target stimulus. Our results may provide new information about the range of conditions in which ABE can be detected. Our research may also broaden the ways in which ABE can be studied.
Faculty Sponsor: Matthew Prull

The Role of the Upper and Lower Face in the Recognition of Facial Identity in Dynamic Stimuli

In my study, I examine upper and lower face contributions in facial recognition and investigate whether this varies with the face being either in motion or static. Past studies have found an upper face advantage in recognition in static images. Given that the lower face is more mobile than the upper, this raises the question of whether dynamic faces also show an upper-face advantage. These data would provide insights into the visual processes of facial recognition, aiding in treatment of neurological diseases affecting the ability. Prosopagnosia patients are unable to recognize faces and are an example of a population that can benefit from these findings. A better understanding of normal recognition processes may help with the identification of variants and the diagnosis of patients with similar cognitive disorders. I conducted my research at the Vancouver General Hospital under Dr. Jason Barton, with the assistance of Shanna Yeung and Sena Youn.
Faculty Sponsor: Ginger Withers

Chloe Daikh, moderator

Front Seat: Bringing Back Theatre, Virtually

Theater’s magic is captured through the immediacy and intimacy of articulation and passion, and through the connection between actors and audience in a shared space. COVID-19 has compromised this outlet for Whitman’s Department of Theater and Dance. To compensate, a Computer Science capstone team created a web application called Front Seat, by which actors, stage managers, and directors are able to rehearse and communicate about stage design without being in the same physical space. Through motion-tracking technology, Front Seat overlays diagrams of digital stage layouts in which each actor’s movements are captured. The result is stage movement otherwise lost because of social distancing and quarantining. This application may support efforts by other theater departments faced with similar restrictions.
Faculty Sponsor: William Bares

Allison Cohen, moderator

Discarded Queen Conch Shells as Microhabitats for Organisms in South Caicos

Queen conch (Lobatus gigas) is a major fishing industry of the Turks and Caicos Islands in the eastern Caribbean. It is common practice for local fishers to remove the conch's soft body from its shell immediately after capture and to discard the empty shell back into the ocean. While studying abroad at the School for Field Studies on the island of South Caicos, I noticed that discarded queen conch shells were microhabitats for a variety of marine organisms, including critical species like Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and several coral species. Increasing overall biodiversity is critical for ecosystem conservation and maintenance of healthy fisheries. My research into this ecosystem shows how the presence of discarded queen conch shells impacts abundance and diversity of vertebrates and invertebrates, and how these data could be used to combat local habitat destruction and increase overall biodiversity.
Faculty Sponsor: Kate Jackson
Off-Campus Studies Program: The School for Field Studies: Turks and Caicos Marine Resource Studies

9:15 a.m. ALEX FERY
Hindlimb Adaptations to Burrowing in Anurans

Anurans (frogs and toads) have a specialized, morphologically constrained body plan with reduced presacral vertebrae and elongated and highly folded hindlimbs. These adaptations are related to ambulation by jumping, which is the primary method of locomotion for most frogs. However, besides jumping, anurans are also known to swim, walk, climb and burrow. Because of this, fossorial (burrowing) anurans typically share morphological traits consistent with their burrowing lifestyle, including having small heads and relatively short hindlimbs compared to non-fossorial species, which increases the force exerted by the leg muscles while digging. I will discuss the degree of specialization in the hindlimbs of burrowing anurans by comparing trends in hindlimb measurements between burrowing anurans and terrestrial members of the same families.
Faculty Sponsor: Kate Jackson
Research Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Elevational Range Shifts of Two Species of Redstarts in Costa Rica in the Age of Climate Change

The narrow elevational ranges of tropical montane bird species make them among the most threatened cohorts of birds in the current age of climate change. I used data from eBird, a citizen science project, to investigate the elevational ranges of two species of cloud forest insectivorous warblers in Costa Rica between 1980 and 2019. I examined 11,856 surveys containing observations of the slate-throated redstart (Myioborus miniatus) and 7,366 surveys containing observations of the collared redstart (M. torquatus) across 294 sites to assess elevational shifts in the two species' ranges over time. I found that the slate-throated redstart may be replacing the collared redstart as these species move upward in elevation and as the collared redstart, a highland endemic, is pushed off the top of the mountain. These upward shifts in elevation may result from increasing temperatures and from the upward shift of the cloud banks that characterize this fragile ecosystem. 
Faculty Sponsor: Tim Parker

Body Condition of White-tailed Deer in Northeastern Washington

The nutritional state of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) can indicate the health of a population as well as the stressors in an individual’s life. We opportunistically sampled road-killed white-tailed deer in northeastern Washington state to (1) assess the nutritional state of the population and (2) determine the correlation between two different methods of evaluating body condition. In this study we compared a subset Kistner score based on pericardium and kidney fat levels to bone marrow fat percentage. Over four years of collecting, we found that body condition varied across season, with the highest average percent fat in the fall at 17.13% and lowest average percent fat during lactation at 6.65%. During pregnancy, the average percent fat was 9.58%. We also found that body fat percentage and bone marrow percentage were not correlated, and bone marrow analysis did not seem to be a consistent method for determining body condition.
Faculty Sponsor: Tim Parker
Research Funding Sources: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Predator-Prey Project, Whitman Internship Grant

Chamber Music Interlude: 10:15-10:45 a.m.

[Special permission from the family of William Grant Still allowed performance of this piece on the day of the 2021 Whitman Undergraduate Conference only.]

"The Sentimental One"
from Lyric Quartette
by William Grant Still
Amy Dodds, Director
Julia Schillings, violin
Jack Fleming, violin
Elsa Batten, viola
Liam Dubay, cello

William Grant Still (1895-1978)

William Grant Still, whose music is featured in the chamber music segment of this year’s Undergraduate Conference, was a Renaissance figure in more than conventional terms. A pre-med student at Wilberforce University, an arranger for W.C. Handy, a performer of popular music (principally violin and oboe) and composer of concert music, Still was a leading voice in the Harlem Renaissance.

Spanning nearly two decades (circa 1918-1935), the Harlem Renaissance was one of the most significant intellectual and cultural movements in U.S. history, and Still was a major contributor to the rebirth. Later, he became the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra (L.A. Philharmonic); the first to have an opera (“Troubled Island”) produced by a major company; and the first to have a symphonic work (Symphony No. 1 in A flat major (“Afro-American”)) performed by a major U.S. orchestra (the Rochester Philharmonic under the direction of Howard Hanson).

Still was also prolific. His collected work includes five symphonies, eight operas, four ballets, more than 30 choral works, and dozens of chamber music pieces, art songs and compositions for solo instruments. “Lyric Quartette,” composed in 1960, is a set of musical portraits of friends in three movements. “The Sentimental One” is the opening portrait.

Panel Session Two: 10:45 a.m.-12 p.m.

Chloe Daikh, moderator

Biochemical Remediation of Carbon Monoxide: A Potential Green Energy Source

Small molecules like carbon dioxide, dioxygen, nitrogen monoxide, and carbon monoxide are essential to many biological processes. These molecules are pervasive, highly stable, and difficult to alter in the lab, but biological enzymes have evolved ways to rapidly and efficiently transform them into useful products. Our work centers on the enzyme carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH) from the soil bacterium Oligotropha carboxidovorans, which transforms toxic carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Byproducts from this transformation provide the cellular energy to drive the metabolic processes of this bacterium. We are studying this biological reaction using a computational model, and our presentation will highlight how the unique two-metal-center reaction site facilitates this remarkable conversion. We will address the potential of biocatalytic systems like CODH for pollution amelioration, green energy, and other chemical processes vital to our society.
Faculty Sponsor: Dalia Biswas
Research Funding Source: National Science Foundation

Trolling Dead Waters: Witnessing an Age of Extinction

As climate change continues to exponentially alter the state of our planet, the impacts to Pacific salmon are not yet fully understood. In Alaska’s marine environments, average migrating salmon are smaller and less numerous now than in previous decades. With these accelerated changes, will the world’s last wild salmon fisheries survive? In Washington, the Yakima River has undergone drops in flow due to declining mountain snowpack and historic droughts. Climatic changes are forcing unlikely partnerships as individuals collaborate on adaptive water use plans to protect the livelihoods of farmers and the habitat where salmon live and die. In our presentation, we first explore the decline of salmon in Alaskan coastal waters. We then turn to key examples of fishing communities near the Pacific Ocean and water-user communities in the Yakima Basin that are responding to these shifts and to rapidly changing river basin hydrology.
Faculty Sponsor: Donald Snow

11:15 a.m. JACK FLEMING
Water Rights in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

My presentation examines the Arab-Israeli conflict through the lens of water. Israel’s settler-colonial occupation and control over the region’s limited water resources has dramatic ramifications for Palestinian agriculture and health. Gaza’s failing coastal aquifer and olive tree cultivation in the West Bank, for example, demonstrate how the struggle over water resources impacts the ability of Palestinians to continue to live in their ancestral homeland. While the status of Jerusalem and the occupation of the West Bank are commonly acknowledged flash points in the Arab-Israeli conflict, I assert that it is a mistake to ignore the contentious and politicized struggle over water as a crucial facet of the ongoing conflict. In this arid region, control over water is no less important than control over land.
Faculty Sponsor: Elyse Semerdjian

Who Acts on Climate Change? Exploring the Influences of Climate Change Action

Climate change has dire implications. Yet, concern over climate change has dramatically decreased over time (Schiffman, 2015). One strategy to combat apathy toward climate change and encourage action is to divert discussion from the environmental perspective and instead address how ideologies shape responses to this crisis. Our research asks how one’s racial group and level of social dominance orientation affect attitudes and behavior toward climate change. We predict that white individuals, high in SDO, will advocate for climate change action when it benefits their in-group, while individuals low in SDO will advocate for action regardless of the group it benefits. Our study goes beyond an examination of group preferences, demonstrating how ideologies such as SDO can shape attitudes that lead to real-life consequences, especially as these ideologies disproportionately impact marginalized groups. Our findings will help us craft messages to encourage action and reduce climate change.
Faculty Sponsor: Chanel Meyers

Alyssa Ortiz, moderator

Reengineering the Whitman College Technology Services' Shift Scheduling Application

Whitman College Technology Services employs students across a variety of jobs to assist the college with various technological tasks. The current shift management website, used to organize, schedule and rearrange shifts for WCTS student employees, has become outdated due to the rapid data migration from in-house computing to cloud-based storage and the use of legacy coding languages in this application. Utilizing the MongoDB, React, and NodeJS full-stack framework, we constructed an application that allows administrators to easily schedule shifts while maintaining the useful functionality of its predecessor. Using these modern frameworks, this web application allows for increased scalability and maintainability in the future. Additionally, this application adds to the existing features while aiming to increase usability and save time by centralizing many of the administrative tasks such as schedule creation.
Faculty Sponsor: William Bares

Can Academic Student-Advisor Matchmaking Be Automated?

What features make a good match between an incoming student and their advisor? How do we determine to prioritize an individual good match versus equity within all automated matches? We as a capstone team explored these issues to see if they could be algorithmically solvable through the implementation of a weight-based matching algorithm. Through the help of our stakeholder analysis we were able to better understand the tensions between the values of each of our stakeholders and who gets to ultimately decide which of those values are prioritized over the others. With this information, we proposed a system that surveys academic advisors and students in order to perform automated weight-based matches. With the implementation of our weight-based algorithm and our student/advisor surveys, we produced a web application that compares the results from our surveys and constructs matches based on the preferences given.
Faculty Sponsor: John Stratton

Allison Cohen, moderator

“Kaulana Nā Pua”: A Protest Song for Native Hawaiian Identity

There are many songs of protest against oppression in both pop culture and folk music. Native Hawaiians (Kānaka Maoli), too, share this tradition. Many protest songs center on abrupt and traumatic experiences of colonization, ʻāina (land) separation, and sovereignty denial. One protest song in particular, “Kaulana Nā Pua” (“Famous Are the Flowers”), has empowered Kānaka Maoli for generations. A close lyrical analysis, along with the historical context of Hawaiian history and protest music, illustrates this song's enduring influence on Kānaka Maoli. Despite the lack of research on indigenous protest songs, it is imperative to study these diverse forms to better understand major themes of resistance, relationships with the land, and sovereignty in the context of identity and identity restoration.
Faculty Sponsor: Miles Canaday

Racial Disparities of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The death of George Floyd sparked outrage and protests across the country against police brutality directed at Black individuals. As the Black Lives Matter movement progressed alongside the novel COVID-19 pandemic, another form of inequity was exposed. The pandemic revealed stark disparities between races and ethnicities. Indigenous, Black, and Latino populations continue to be infected, hospitalized, and die of SARS CoV-2 at significantly higher rates than white populations. As the pandemic progresses, evidence suggests that COVID-19 treatment for these populations has only exacerbated past disparities in healthcare. These inequalities now extend to vaccinations and testing. In my presentation, I share results of my research on clinical and public health data of the past 12 months, providing insight into the racial disparities magnified by the pandemic. I also highlight areas of possible inequity in COVID-19 response in the U.S. and suggest strategies to reduce these disparities.
Faculty Sponsor: Jim Russo

Death by Neoliberalism: A Crippled Take on Pity

The novel coronavirus that engulfs the world has highlighted a far less novel plague: the inequities produced by the market-driven ideologies of late capitalism and biopolitics. In my presentation, I trace the connection between neoliberal and ableist logic and ICU-eugenics. Disabled activists and allies in the United States began sounding the alarm at Italy’s first mentions of a “soft utilitarian” approach to rationing COVID-19 care. I argue that the case of Michael Hickson, a Disabled Black man, exemplifies how dangerously the neoliberal order functions in the U.S. Hickson ultimately died at the hands of his medical team, who cited his poor “quality of life” as a rationale for denying life-saving care. In my analysis of the bioethics of ICU-eugenics, I conclude that Disabled bodies are a site of resistance, since, simply by existing, they present an effortless rejection of the ideal body demanded by the neoliberal order.
Faculty Sponsors: Kaitlyn Patia and Antonia Keithahn

11:30 a.m. CALEB SHERMAN
Racial Implications of Rhetoric in Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons has been a fixation within global culture for decades. In the 1980s, people thought that the game was satanic because of the inclusion of monsters and spells. Now, it is celebrated in television shows like "Stranger Things." By examining the game within the context of rhetorical studies — with a focus on race — we can better understand the way that racist coding remains prevalent in our society. Games with role-playing in their design offer a unique window into issues surrounding race and appropriation. One example is the archaic conflation of the terms “species” and “race.” Another is the way that a majority-white player base is expected to appropriate allegorical versions of real-world cultures. In my presentation, I answer a central question: To what extent does the language used in role-playing games reinforce and perpetuate racist ideas?
Faculty Sponsor: Kaitlyn Patia

11:45 a.m. RUBY MATTHEWS
Interaction Between Racial Language and Racial Equity Perceptions

My study examines the language surrounding racism, specifically how interpersonal examples vs. systemic examples impact perceptions of racial equity. Recent large movements to expose racism in our society attempt to highlight historic systemic discrimination, lack of access to healthcare, and employment disparities for racialized minorities in the U.S. I examine what factors influence perceptions of racial equity in the country. In particular, I consider the effectiveness of interpersonal and systemic narratives in evoking empathy in white individuals’ interpretation of our racist society. I hypothesize that individuals who are randomly assigned to the interpersonal condition will have higher levels of ethnocultural empathy than those who are randomly assigned to the systemic condition. I also expect that those who report higher levels of ethnocultural empathy will also have lower perceptions of racial equity in the U.S. Through my research, I hope to find specific factors that influence racial equity perceptions among whites.
Faculty Sponsors: Chanel Meyers and Erin Pahlke

Ava Liponis, moderator

10:45 a.m. ZOE BROWN
Disgust as a Mechanism Underlying Female Sexual Dysfunction

The sexual pain disorders vaginismus and dyspareunia share the core diagnostic feature of pain or fear of pain during genital contact or penetration of the vagina. People with vaginismus are higher in disgust propensity, defined as how easily and intensely one experiences disgust. When an individual’s disgust propensity is high, it may interfere with sexual arousal and impact the ability to have fulfilling sexual experiences. The purpose of my study is to replicate the finding that disgust propensity is associated with increased symptoms of vaginismus and to investigate whether people with vaginismus show increased disgust toward all types of disgust elicitors or only toward sexual stimuli. My study used an online eye-tracking alternative that utilizes mouse movements in order to analyze an individual's disgust. Understanding the mechanisms underlying sexual dysfunction will contribute to creating more effective treatments.
Faculty Sponsor: Tom Armstrong

Do Narrative Specificity and Meaning-Making in Autobiographical Memories Mediate the Link between Avoidant Attachment and Well-Being?

Research indicates that individual differences in avoidant attachment and features in autobiographical narratives predict well-being (Hainlen et al., 2015; Blagov & Singer, 2004). We integrated the theories of adult attachment and narrative processing of self-defining memories to propose that narrative specificity and narrative meaning-making partially mediate the link between avoidant attachment and well-being (while controlling for the remaining dimensions of attachment). Participants in our study were 257 American sexual minority persons (primarily gay men and lesbians) recruited online in the summer of 2019. They recorded six self-defining memories regarding their close relationships with parents and romantic partners. They also completed questionnaires measuring individual differences in attachment and key facets of well-being via self-reporting. Our findings may shed light on a potential mechanism that links avoidant attachment and well-being, and that entails reduced specificity and meaning at higher levels of avoidant attachment. Understanding this mechanism may inform psychotherapy.
Faculty Sponsor: Pavel Blagov
Research Funding Source: Department of Psychology

The Role of Gender and Gender Role Adherence in Perceptions of Likability

People often make snap judgments about others, which can affect themselves and the way others are perceived. We wanted to assess how an individual’s own gender and gender role adherence impacted their perception of others. To do this, we examined variations in how people perceive others who encompass either feminine or masculine traits. We based our study on prior work on in-group/out-group biases, intergroup theory, and toxic masculinity. We asked participants to rate descriptions of people who varied based on their gender and gender role adherence. We hypothesized that feminine traits would be poorly perceived in both men and women, but especially in men, and that not adhering to traditional gender roles would negatively impact how others are perceived. Our study is important because women and those who exhibit feminine traits are often stereotyped and may have diminished opportunity because of initial negative perceptions.
Faculty Sponsor: Erin Pahlke

Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz, moderator

10:45 a.m. ADAM ROONEY
Signs of Global Traffic: An Exploration of Non-Places

My presentation captures research I conducted for my thesis in Hispanic Studies in which I apply the theory of “non-places,” developed by French anthropologist Marc Augé, to Alberto Fuguet and Gonzalo Martínez’s graphic novel, Road Story. Non-places are nondescript, functional spaces necessary for the circulation of people and goods. Examples include hotel rooms, highways, airports, and shopping malls. The paradox of non-places is that they simultaneously connect people from across the globe while producing solitude for "users" who pass through these spaces in anonymity. My presentation highlights how the theory of non-places can help us better understand the challenges that Walla Walla faces in attracting visitors as a tourist destination, and that Whitman College faces in attracting students: to remain unique while being what people expect, and to preserve identity while serving transient groups.
Faculty Sponsor: Janis Be

Multi-Level Marketing: An Intersection of Religion and Capitalism in America

Door-to-door salesmen, clever recruitment tactics, community-building, mysticism, a higher power. These concepts may initially bring to mind images of direct sales. They also may evoke images of evangelical Christianity. It is at this junction that we find multi-level marketing: a capitalist, conservative Christian dream. The lines between business and religion are increasingly blurred, and it is in this liminal space that multi-level marketing schemes such as doTERRA, LuLaRoe, and Amway have harnessed the American evangelical dream. This dream necessarily involves targeting enthusiastic young women (primarily), using business tactics to sell products and recruit participants, promoting a product that is touted as superior to anything offered by any other business, and ultimately providing a life that cannot be achieved through secular means alone. In considering these organizations, I ask the following questions: What is religion? What is secularism? What does multi-level marketing teach us about religion?
Faculty Sponsor: Lauren Osborne

Germany and Italy: Exploring Parallel Cultures through Food

On their surface, Germany and Italy are not seen as having many social similarities. Yet, there is a long shared history of cultural exchange, political ties, and migration between these two European nations. Food in particular gives us a unique window into the mingling of these societies, challenging the common notion that “German” and “Italian” are two distinct cultural identities. My research addresses common terms within food and culture studies such as tradition, authenticity, and purity and questions the validity of assigning these terms to “ethnic” foods and cultures at large. Using Italian/German food as a case study, I argue for a dynamic understanding of transnational culture that challenges stereotypes and expands our concept of identity.
Faculty Sponsor: Emily Jones
Research Funding Source: Soden Student Research Scholar Award

11:30 a.m. PHYLLIS PAWA
Femininity and the Jewish-American Food Voice through Cookbooks

Cookbooks written from 1920 to 1965 with a Jewish-American female demographic in mind create an aspirational Jewish-American food voice. This voice can be seen in cookbooks as a textual assemblage of different categories: prefaces, prayers, calendar, advertisements, and the recipes themselves. I show how these cookbooks elevated an American middle-class ideal perpetuated through Jewish values about femininity by examining the value of women in the home. The early 1920s is often seen as the beginning of rapid modernization through electricity and the industrialization of food. The period is also marked by the Immigration Act of 1924, which put quotas on Asian and Jewish immigration. The year 1965 bookends this period of food industrialization and marks the end of a specific era of femininity in American and Jewish contexts. My research sheds light on how cookbooks were used to create a food voice during an understudied time in this area.
Faculty Sponsor: Xiaobo Yuan

Jazz Lunch Hour: 12-1 p.m.

How do musicians versed in improvisation collectively create, arrange, redesign and record music in isolation? This year’s contribution from the Jazz I program, directed by Doug Scarborough, affords a glimpse into this process. Four small ensembles from the Jazz I family share their research, creative instincts and musical chops in a video captured specially for the Undergraduate Conference.

Doug Scarborough
Director, Jazz Ensemble I


Band 1: “Faith” (George Michael, 1987)

 Meghan McFadden, vocals
Bornnie Kabongo, piano, guitar and bass
Matthew Hershkowitz, trumpet
Koby Haigerty, drums


Band 2: “Just the Two of Us” (Bill Withers, William Salter, Ralph MacDonald, 1980)

 Harrison Lurie, guitar, bass and drums
Jonah Panzer, saxophone
Will Weisz, saxophone
Karl Johnson, piano and vocals


Band 3: “Ribbon in the Sky” (Stevie Wonder, 1981)

Jonathan Reed, guitar
Spencer Thulin, drums and synthesizer
Liam Twomey, trombone
Jed Matthias, trumpet and bass


Band 4: “Time After Time” (Cyndi Lauper, 1983)

Eva Sullivan, vocals
Daniel Leong, saxophone
Alex Lamers, synthesizer
Bennett Cooper, guitar and drums

Poster Session: 1-2 p.m.

Poster creators and spectators came together in Gather.Town for a live interactive viewing of the poster presentations. The Gather.Town room remains open if you'd like to virtually stroll through. You can also view a gallery of the posters and abstracts on our Poster Presentation page.

Panel Session Three: 2-3:15 p.m.

Allison Cohen, moderator

2 p.m. EILA CHIN
How Hillside Aspect Affects Soil Temperatures

At the Wallula Gap Biological Station west of Walla Walla, plant communities differ between south-facing and north-facing slopes. South-facing slopes tend to be dominated by annual grasses like cheatgrass, while perennial grasses like bluebunch wheatgrass dominate the north-facing slopes. South-facing slopes receive more solar radiation than north-facing slopes, and this could affect soil temperature. Understanding how soil temperature affects plant communities is important because global warming will likely increase soil temperatures. To determine the extent to which aspect affects soil temperature, I analyzed soil temperature data from south-facing and north-facing slopes between 2015-2019. I found that south-facing soils were approximately 5.94°C warmer, which could explain why they have fewer perennial grasses. In the summer, perennial seedlings are metabolically active while annual grasses exist only as seeds. This means that annual grasses would have an easier time than perennial grasses in surviving the hot soils of south-facing slopes each summer.
Faculty Sponsor: Tim Parker
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

2:15 p.m. ALEX GERBER
The Effects of Solar Radiation on Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch wheatgrass is a perennial bunchgrass native to Eastern Washington. Recently, its numbers have been on the decline. At Spring Gulch in the Wallula Gap Biological Station, bluebunch is much more common on north-facing slopes compared to south-facing slopes. The low density of bluebunch wheatgrass on south-facing slopes may be a result of higher temperatures due to increased solar radiation. To test this hypothesis, I created shaded and open (unshaded) plots on the south-facing slopes of Spring Gulch and tracked bluebunch seed germination and seedling survival in both plot types. If these measures reveal a higher bluebunch success rate in shaded plots, it could suggest that climate change would significantly decrease bluebunch wheatgrass population numbers in the Columbia Basin.
Faculty Sponsor: Tim Parker

2:30 p.m. ANNA ZIRKES
Current Reproduction as a Predictor of Future Growth and Reproduction in Pseudoroegneria spicata

Native perennial grasses have declined throughout the Columbia Basin and are at risk of continued losses due to climate change. At the Wallula Gap Biological Station in Spring Gulch, Washington, bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) appears to be declining on the hotter and drier south-facing slopes of the area. I investigated individual plant investments in growth and reproduction, which may help explain demographic patterns. I found that bluebunch wheatgrass plants with above-average reproduction in one year were more likely to have above-average growth and reproduction the following year. Spatial variations in resource availability may drive this difference in investments, and thus demographic patterns; however, additional information is required to determine what allows some plants to out-perform others across multiple years.
Faculty Sponsor: Tim Parker
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Investigating the Effects of Cattle Grazing on the Colorado Plateau

The majority of public land in the western United States is grazed by livestock. Livestock grazing is promoted, protected and subsidized by federal agencies on approximately 270 million acres of public land in 11 western states. However, only two to five percent of the nation’s livestock feed comes from public lands. My research as a journalism intern this past summer with the Grand Canyon Trust focuses on grazing along the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners region of the Southwest and its effects on the land. At the end of my internship, I completed a data sheet that outlines the scope and true cost of cattle-grazing. I share this data and my methods of collection in my presentation. I also discuss the environmental harms of cattle grazing on public lands, from greenhouse gas emissions to severe habitat loss to the killing of wildlife for the protection of livestock.
Faculty Sponsor: Philip Brick

Alyssa Ortiz, moderator

Designing a Web Interface for a Valuable Scientific Database

Chemists around the world use the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Standard Reference Database 46, which contains thousands of critically-selected stability constants for various metal complexes. Unfortunately, the user interface was unmaintained for many years and now only runs as a program on the outdated Windows XP operating system, which makes it very difficult to access and navigate. We set out to develop a web application with a better user interface that will afford scientists easier access to this resource. Our project focuses on implementing features that will make the data readable and easy to navigate in a way that fits with a chemist's workflow and their approach to finding and using information. In this presentation, we will detail how we implemented these design choices to create a web application that has the potential to impact the scientific community both at Whitman and beyond.
Faculty Sponsor: John Stratton

Building a User Interface for Simulation Software

The Differential Equation Network Simulation Engine (DENSE) allows systems biologists to simulate models of complex chemical reactions. The problem is that in DENSE, these models need to be written in C++, a programming language that may be difficult to use without a computer science background. On top of that, there is no convenient way to save and keep track of different models and simulation versions. To solve these problems, we built a desktop application with a user interface allowing users to load their models from a common systems biology model format, convert and compile these models, and then configure, run, and view the results of their various simulations. By making the DENSE software more accessible, we invite more biologists and chemists to add DENSE to their research arsenal.
Faculty Sponsor: John Stratton

Ava Liponis, moderator

Effect of Social Interaction on Song Learning in Zebra Finches

In humans, peer interactions have been correlated with improved cognitive performance, academic achievement, motivation, and language acquisition. Peer interactions have been drastically reduced due to COVID-19, potentially resulting in impairments in the above categories. Recent research has shown that zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) are a robust model for human learning both due to their overall gregariousness and similar brain areas for language acquisition. Thus, we conducted a longitudinal study on the effects of social isolation and interactions on song learning in zebra finches. We housed male juvenile finches either with similarly aged juveniles or in isolation, and recorded each individual's song once a week between days 60 and 100. By analyzing the songs for accuracy relative to their own tutor, we will be able to further understand how social isolation affects learning.
Faculty Sponsor: Nancy Day

Effect of Prolonged Social Isolation on Corticosterone, Gene Expression and Behavior in Male and Female Zebra Finches

Social isolation constitutes a significant stressor for social animals. Brief periods of social isolation (<24 hours) have been shown to have significant physiological effects in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), which are highly social. Our study examined the effects of prolonged social isolation in zebra finches on levels of the stress hormone corticosterone (CORT). We also quantified the gene expression of FKBP5, oxytocin receptors, and vasopressin receptors because previous research has shown that stress affects the expression of these genes. We predict that prolonged social isolation will increase levels of CORT, increase FKBP5 expression, and decrease oxytocin and vasopressin receptor expression. Ultimately, this would indicate that prolonged social isolation is a stressor that has significant physiological consequences for zebra finches. Understanding the physiological consequences that a social species experiences during prolonged social isolation may further illuminate the challenges that humans are currently facing while isolating to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Faculty Sponsor: Nancy Day
Research Funding Source: Faculty-Student Summer Research Award

Technology, Transparency, and Trust: Inside Taiwan's Swift COVID-19 Response

Despite its proximity to China and sizable population (23.85 million), Taiwan has recorded fewer than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 (as of March 1, 2021). COVID-19 incidence in Taiwan is 40 cases per million compared to 86,000-plus cases per million in the U.S. A wide variety of political, cultural, and emotional factors account for Taiwan’s swift, technologically mediated COVID-19 response. I explore these factors through reviews of literature focused on social design, public health, technology, and their intersections. I also analyze online primary sources and oral histories. Finally, I reveal how the tenets of Taiwan’s “digital democracy” — rough consensus, civic participation, and radical transparency — were instrumental to the country’s successful COVID-19 response, which has been described as “fast, fair, and fun.” My research has broad implications for the dissemination of public health information and ways to combat misinformation now and in the future.
Faculty Sponsor: Jason Pribilsky

2:45 p.m. DANIEL LEONG
Japanese Attitudes Toward Mental Health

Beneath its economic prowess and technological innovation, Japan has struggled with a mental health pandemic long before COVID-19. Despite having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, Japan’s population has historically underutilized mental healthcare. At the same time, individuals with mental health issues such as depression face a deeply rooted cultural stigma in their communities. One of my commitments at Whitman has been to advocate for mental healthcare and challenge those who dismiss it. For the past three years, I have collaborated with Whitman faculty and several professors in Japan in examining the efficacy of a psychoeducational intervention regarding attitudes toward mental health among university-age students in Japan. Though limited in scope by the coronavirus pandemic, my study and others like it are essential in order to reduce stigmatization and misconceptions about mental illness among future generations.
Faculty Sponsor: Tom Armstrong

Nadyieli Gonzalez Ortiz, moderator

2 p.m. CORA PATZ
Surviving Horror: Finding One’s Humanity in the Midst of the Holocaust

The Shoah was an intentional system aimed at murdering Jews and other minorities and resulted in the genocide of over six million people -- an incomprehensible level of killing and death. In concentration camps, acts were routinely carried out against prisoners to break their spirit and any resistance. Conceptions of what counted as normal were destroyed, moral boundaries were crossed, and acts that were previously unimaginable were suddenly negotiated as part of everyday life. How were individuals able to maintain their humanity while experiencing these most inhumane conditions? How were they able to navigate their experience under such extreme circumstances? Hannah Arendt, Victor Klemperer, Giorgio Agamben and László Nemes’ film Son of Saul provide examples and analyses to help understand what people had to do to survive their new horrific reality. My presentation explores how people — both victims and perpetrators — survived not physically, but mentally and emotionally.
Faculty Sponsor: Julia Ireland

From Nazi Germany to Trump: How Language Shapes Our Moral Reality

How does language possess the power to dissolve our sense of conscience? Alternately, how can language be utilized to keep our morality intact? My presentation considers these urgent questions in the context of the language of Nazi totalitarianism. I argue that, by using our words intentionally, we can restore meaning to our actions and therefore protect ourselves from the former outcome: the abandonment of our moral conscience. Theorists such as Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, and Karl Jaspers serve as guiding lights in my inquiry. Whether as students of Whitman College or as participants in the culture of social media, how is our sense of conscience affirmed or denied through our everyday language?
Faculty Sponsor: Julia Ireland

The Poison of the Big Lie: Understanding Authoritarian Language Between the Nazis and Trump

Our structure of world is predicated upon its encounterability: how we perceive our environment and communicate these perceptions in order to construct a shared context that allows meaning to emerge and reality to hold together coherently. What happens when the construction of our environment is manipulated in such a way that reality cannot be authentically encountered within the conceptual framework of the world as we know it? Totalitarian domination. Through the implementation and repetition of distinct rhetorical and linguistic conventions, the Third Reich and the Trump administration were able to achieve just that. In what ways can we combat this annihilation of (shared) language? How can we articulate what is made ineffable? To what extent are we responsible for the political climate we partake in, and what do we owe each other? My presentation addresses these questions through analysis of texts by Klemperer, Gessen, Arendt, Jaspers, Agamben, Spiegelman, and Levi.
Faculty Sponsor: Julia Ireland

Fake News and Accuracy Perceptions

Social media platforms have increased their regulation of posts with warning messages in an effort to curb the spread of false and misleading information, or “fake news.” Our study extends prior research that examined the effectiveness of these warnings on perceived accuracy and whether social endorsements moderate this effect. Participants viewed tweets containing true and false news headlines accompanied by either a strong or moderate accuracy warning, or no warning. Tweets also varied based on social endorsement in the form of likes and retweets. We hypothesize that participants exposed to more severe warnings will perceive the headlines as less accurate than participants who viewed them without any warnings. We also expect likes and retweets to increase perceptions of accuracy regardless of warnings . Our findings may better inform the decisions of social media platforms in designing accuracy warnings.
Faculty Sponsor: Stephen Michael

Adam Rooney, moderator

Intertext/Subtext: The Power of Sulpicia's Poetry

How does the poetry of Sulpicia, a female voice from ancient Rome, interact with the works of her contemporary, Augustan-era poets? How do those poets respond to her? My presentation focuses on the intertextuality of Sulpicia’s poetry. First, I argue for a precise dating of the Garland of Sulpicia -- 17 BCE -- based on archaeological and prosopographical evidence. I demonstrate that Sulpicia was taken seriously as a poet in her own time by analyzing responses from her contemporaries. I highlight Sulpicia’s artful deployment of vocabulary favored by Propertius and her discussion of the implications of fama (“reputation”) for elite Roman women as begun by Vergil. Sulpicia’s intertextuality demonstrates the artistry of her poetry which modern scholarship has long denied. I end my presentation with a discussion of Sulpicia’s role as amator (“lover”), a role typically reserved for male poets, as well as her interest in mutual love.
Faculty Sponsor: Sarah Davies

Navigating Marriage, Agency, and Autonomy: Lou Salomé’s Life as an Artist

Lou Salomé broke barriers and advocated for herself in ways that, during her time, could only be described as unconventional. She accomplished much as a prolific writer and the first female psychoanalyst. But this work all too often stands in the shadow of her relationships with major male figures of the time: Nietzsche, Freud, and Rilke. Salomé’s story is generally told by way of these men. Yet, her art and intellectual engagement stem from her freedom and individuality; her contributions stand alone and should be considered on their own merit. My presentation is a distilled biography of Salomé that honors her own unique perspective. I use the novella Eine Ausschweifung as a means to think through the challenging structures of her life as an artist. I also draw on other sources, including Salomé’s autobiographical writing, to provide context that illuminates her ideas.
Faculty Sponsor: Emily Jones

Drawing Connections between Goethe, Faust, and Geology: A Study of the Sublime

Goethe is remembered primarily as a poet, dramatist, and novelist: the de facto “Shakespeare of Germany.” But he was also a keen observer of natural phenomena and participated actively in scientific development during the 18th century. Interested particularly in geology, Goethe was a devoted Neptunist who believed that all rock precipitated from prehistoric oceans. Though this view is fundamentally wrong from a modern geologist’s perspective, Goethe still had a firm understanding and respect for geologic time and the dynamism of the earth. These geological beliefs are represented in his literary writings such as in Faust. I argue that the Romantic concept of the sublime, which is defined as the aesthetic quality of simultaneous astonishment and horror, is the thread which connects Goethe’s geological and literary endeavors. As it relates to geologic processes, the sublime allows for a reckoning in which we can better grasp our impact on the earth.
Faculty Sponsor: Emily Jones

Heavy Metal Music and Acoustic Rebellion in "Paradise Lost"

Although scholars have studied the hellish music of John Milton’s "Paradise Lost," for centuries, contemporary critics have yet to investigate the epic poem's musical and political appeal to fans of heavy metal music. In this “metal reading” (the first of its kind!), I utilize analyses of Satan as a hero in "Paradise Lost," as well as research on heavy metal’s appropriation of Satanic symbols and narratives, to configure Milton’s Satan as the false savior of the “metal reader.” I analyze sonorous passages of the poem alongside lyrics by artists such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath to suggest that "Paradise Lost" challenges but ultimately reinforces the anarchic ethics of heavy metal music. To the metal reader, not even one of the greatest antiheroes in literature succeeds as a figurehead for musical or political rebellion.
Faculty Sponsor: Theresa DiPasquale

Composers Studio Concert 3:15-4:30 p.m.

The music in the Composers Studio program is a product of the creative talents of Whitman student composers as they fulfill the requirements of the music composition curriculum. Two of the works, those by Jongwoo Lee and Cameron Solon, are "character suites," sets of short descriptive pieces based on specific imagery. The other two works, by Liam Dubay and Ronja Mokranova, are sets of variations on an original or borrowed theme. These time-honored musical forms are designed to guide student composers from the essential arts of crafting melody, harmony and rhythm to the more complex structures of contrapuntal and formal manipulation through variation.

John David Earnest
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Composers Studio


Liam Dubay: Variations on “Ashokan Farewell” for Viola and Cello 

“Ashokan Farewell” is a fiddle tune best known for its use in the soundtrack of Ken Burns' documentary film, “The Civil War.” It was composed by Jay Ungar in 1982 as a farewell waltz to be played at the annual Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camps in upstate New York. Violist Elsa Batten and I perform excerpts from a set of variations on this tune. The first variation is a lyrical elaboration on the last phrase of the tune. The second variation is a spritely jig with a rhythmic twist, while the third is a somber dirge. Variation VIII starts as a conversation between the two instruments, each with a different motivic idea, but soon turns into an argument. The final variation, written as a sort of chorale, brings the set to a dramatic conclusion.

Elsa Batten, viola
Liam Dubay, cello


Jongwoo Lee: “Flightstory” for Solo Piano

My piano composition, “Flightstory,” is the second piece in a suite of three pieces which describes the journey I made from my home in South Korea to Walla Walla last September amidst the pandemic. For me, the piano was the best instrument to illustrate the scenery and emotions I had during my first flight after a long gap year. The piano was best able to express the varying and multi-layered experience of that journey. I hope you enjoy this music.

Kristin Vining, piano


Ronja Mokranova: Variations on a Dream for String Quartet

My piece, written in 2020, follows the story of a child falling asleep and dreaming of a fantastical world. It is dedicated to my younger sister. The variations are based on an original theme I wrote to represent a state of peaceful simplicity just before falling asleep to deep dreaming. Each variation uses elements of the theme to describe episodes in the dream: walking through a dark enchanted forest; emerging from the forest into an alluring fantasy world; entering a magical palace where a lively waltz is in progress; being transformed by some sort of spiritual awakening in the music of a slow chorale; struggling with the conflicting forces of hope and doubt; and finally exiting this magical world back through the enchanted forest in an unending and unresolved journey.

Julia Schillings, violin
Jack Fleming, violin
Elsa Batten, viola
Liam Dubay, cello


Cameron Solon: “The Rooftop” for Solo Guitar

My character suite, “The Rooftop,” is composed for solo guitar. The piece is named for the unofficial title of the student house that I live in. The four pieces in the suite are inspired by, named after and are commentary on my four housemates. The suite is a tribute to my relationship with the group, and each piece is a musical portrait of the individuals and my relationship with them. In order, the four pieces are “Bruce,” “Erin,” “Jane” and “Emery.” The guitarist featured in these recordings is Professor Phil Lynch, a faculty member of the Department of Music, who graciously agreed to prepare and perform the suite on a moment's notice. Thank you for tuning in, and enjoy the music.

Phil Lynch, guitar