The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) is only an hour's drive from campus, but not often do students have the chance to engage with the community there. That's where spring break service trips come in.
Each year, Whitman students may choose to embark on service trips during their spring break. Spring break service trips are week-long volunteer programs that allow Whitman students to focus on a particular social issue outside of Walla Walla. It is a great way to have a fun and meaningful spring break, living and learning beyond the Whitman bubble. Each trip's service, education, and reflection opportunities are arranged around a theme, giving students a greater sense of their impact and role in that issue.
"Service trips like the one I went on give me a more well-rounded Whitman experience and education," CTUIR service trip leader Alicia Yan '18 said. "We learn in a real-world experience rather than in a classroom, which I think is incredibly valuable."
Service trip participants volunteer with a primary social organization throughout the week, in addition to visiting and working with other nonprofits to gain an understanding of the issues that affect the broader community. Students also have a chance to explore the city or area they are visiting. The groups are often housed at local churches and cook most meals together.
Trip destinations and themes can vary from year to year. Some previous examples include: Refugees & Resettlement in Seattle, Environmental Conservation in Arcata, California, Urban Education in Portland and Relief & Rebuilding in New Orleans. This year, students chose between learning about urban education in Portland, community renewal in Detroit, incarcerated identities in Olympia, Washington and CTUIR.
The CTUIR service trip was titled Wiyákitnaytùxt (Wee-yuh-kit-"night"-ooh-xt), meaning "search for that to bring home." The trip focused on the history and politics of the Walla Walla valley landscape, as well as environmental conservation of native species of the region. Participants also volunteered with the 29th Annual Basketball Against Alcohol and Drugs (B.A.A.D) Tournament hosted at the CTUIR Recreation Community Gymnasium.
"The students are getting to view a different perspective of both the history and the present of the land and the people in our region," said Haley Forrester '17, a participant. "This trip was paradigm-shifting. I learned so much, and the more I learned, the more I realized how much I had yet to learn. You get to look at a different take on conservation and restoration, and a peek into how science can meet tradition in a cohesive manner."
According to Forrester and Yan, service trip participants spent most of their time gaining knowledge and insight into the history, people and land of CTUIR that can only come from interaction with CTUIR members. Much of their history and culture resides in oral tradition, and it was a rare and special opportunity for Whitman students to be able to learn some of it from tribal elders.
"I think this service trip has contributed greatly to my Whitman education," Forrester said. "I now have a better understanding of the history of the land, of the statues dotted about campus, and of their meanings. It gives my education a greater context. Visiting the reservation also allowed me to foster relationships with the people there, who expanded my knowledge on many subjects, including Whitman-tribal relations throughout history. I am so grateful that I could take this opportunity."