For the Whitman campus community, Monday, Jan. 21 marked not only Martin Luther King Day but also the college’s second Symposium on Diversity and Community. Over the course of the all-day conference, faculty, students and staff came together for lectures and workshops that focused on the theme of “Unfolding Identities.”

“This symposium reflects our commitment to the mission of Whitman College and our commitment to one another in advancing our understanding of our differences,” said President George Bridges in his opening remarks at the morning plenary session in Cordiner Hall.

“We are committed to change,” Bridges added, echoing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s description of “the fierce urgency of now” and the civil rights leader’s vision of a “sunlit path” of justice and equality.

In one of several student reflections on identity interspersed with faculty presentations at the plenary session, David Changa-Moon ’10 shared his own sense of possibility and progress.

“Change happens on personal levels, through individuals wrestling with ideas and values that shape their being,” he told a crowd of several hundred students, faculty and staff gathered at Cordiner. “I am [convinced] that good things can happen in any setting: in an auditorium that seats thousands, or on a loveseat for two.”

Symposium workshops in the afternoon gave Changa-Moon and the rest of the Whitman community the opportunity to share ideas and personal experiences about diversity. Designed by students, faculty and staff, the 20 sessions addressed a broad range of topics, from “The Politics of Attraction: A Discussion Into the Origin and Nature of the Sexual Minority” to “Underrepresented Groups in Science.”

“Everyone had valuable things to say that were important to the Whitman tapestry,” noted Autumn McCartan ‘10. Woven into that tapestry were discussions of race, gender, class, illness, body image and other elements of diversity.

Kim Trinh ’08 and Amanda Roberts ’09 led a workshop titled “Face to Face: Dialogues on Racial and Class Stereotypes” that focused on interpersonal exchange. “It was really touching to hear some people talk about how often and easy it is to feel out of place in certain environments,” Trinh said. “We will always be exposed to the unfamiliar. There will always be moments when we feel out of place in our environments. The question then becomes: ‘So what? Where do we go from here?’”

Keynote speaker Patricia Williams amplified that theme in her evening lecture, “Seeing a Color-Blind Future.”

“I am struck by this interesting moment in history in which we commemorate Dr. King and his notion of the ‘beloved community,’” Williams told a large crowd at Cordiner Hall, some of whom had returned from a candlelight march through downtown Walla Walla. “We have our first viable woman candidate for president of the United States and our first viable African-American candidate for president of the United States … I hope we can retain our vision for this cultural crossroads …We must become King’s ‘beloved community.’”
— Katie Combs ’08

Keith Raether
Office of Communications
Whitman College