One of the great lessons of the civil rights movement is how crucial a role young people have played in driving change - from their participation in sit-ins to participating in the children's march in Birmingham, Alabama.
Continuing that legacy is Whitman Teaches the Movement (WTTM) - the pioneering program that leads conversations about civil rights on campus all year long and in participating Walla Walla public schools every January and February.
"WTTM is one of a number of promising examples of activism among students of this generation," said Kate Shuster, a consultant for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project who helped Whitman launch the program in 2011. "Certainly, the Parkland students have been an inspiration for a lot of people hoping for a renewed focus by young people on student activism and engagement."
Teaching and Continuing the Conversation
At its core, WTTM teaches Whitman students lessons from the history of the civil rights movement often missing from textbooks, such as the roles of black women, youth, schools, families and grassroots organizations in furthering the civil rights movement. Whitties, in turn, pass on this information to students in more than 30 Walla Walla classrooms, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Susan Prudente, assistant director of community engagement with Whitman's Student Engagement Center, serves as the program advisor.
"Participation in the school outreach program compels students to ask, 'What's next?' Volunteering is a small step toward social change, and a bigger step toward life after Whitman and staying civically engaged," she said. "The experience builds confidence, and it's a way for students to apply their passions in a real-life setting."
While the school outreach program takes place in January and February, a host of other WTTM-affiliated events are held on campus throughout the year.
This week, for instance, politics Professor Aaron Bobrow-Strain and Jennifer Lopez, program advisor at the Intercultural Center, will host a discussion on immigration education. The panel is 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in Maxey 204.
WTTM also sponsors frequent screenings of civil rights-focused films on campus. The next screening, of "The Other Walla," a documentary produced by Ethan Graham '18, is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 5. The film follows the senior year in the lives of two Latino students from Walla Walla High School as they face challenges unique to first-generation college-seeking students from immigrant families.
Additionally, Continuing the Conversation (CTC) is a weekly forum for students to discuss topics broadly applying to issues of justice, privilege, equity and inclusion. An extension of the Power and Privilege Symposium, CTC is open to all students and takes place at noon most Fridays during the school year in the Glover Alston Center. Lunch is provided.
Civic Engagement Leads to Careers
Nicole Antenucci '18 and Cherokee Washington '17 were paid interns hired by the SEC to head up the school outreach portion of WTTM. During their senior years, each coordinated the logistics of transporting Whitties to and from the public schools, trained volunteers and consulted with teachers on lesson plans, among other responsibilities.
Antenucci said her experience in WTTM directly shaped her path not only through college but also after graduation. She currently works for Teach For America, teaching fourth-grade special education students in Hawaii.
"Through WTTM, I started teaching in classrooms and was contacted by Teach for America," she said. "WTTM changed a lot of things for me. It opened up so many ways for me to get involved in the Walla Walla community and shaped my career path after. It had a huge impact on my life."
Likewise, Washington's experience with WTTM has transferred over to her professional career. She is as an administrative assistant of diversity initiatives at Crossroads School of Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, California.
"WTTM definitely led me in this direction. I wouldn't be doing this work if I hadn't worked with everyone I met within the program," she said. "My goal was to find a space where I can teach civil rights in the classroom and do something that's going to make a difference and raise agents of change, like what we did at WTTM."
In her post-Whitman work, Washington has gained insight into the issues that are important to students and parents of color.
"There's racism everywhere. That's irrelevant at this point, so let's fix this problem," she said. "We can't just talk about, ‘What is racism, and what does it look like?' We're beyond that point. It's up to us."
Taking up the torch from Antenucci and Washington is Maddy Gold '19, social justice coordinator for the 2019 program. In her first year at Whitman she became involved with WTTM as a classroom volunteer; as a sophomore she increased her involvement, stepping into the role of logistics coordinator. During her tenure with WTTM she has interacted with students of all ages and experienced the full effect of the outreach effort.
Over the course of her tenure with WTTM, Gold has interacted with students of all ages and experienced the full range of the outreach effort.
"I don't think that there's anything too small to teach in terms of social justice, especially because most biases are formed at age 8 - and that's a really important thing to be aware of when we're creating lessons, how we're going to reach all of the different school levels," Gold said.
As her involvement with WTTM has increased, so have her contributions to the program. Gold has collaborated on lesson plans with Teaching Tolerance's Kate Shuster, formed a discussion group for high school students focused on MTV's "Dear White People" and created a public service announcement program whereby middle schoolers promote accessibility within their schools. These teaching and learning opportunities have created momentum for her future goals of socially engaged theatre work and advocacy through community engagement.
"I've been in a position where I have to talk about current events, and that's when students are really like, ‘Oh my gosh, social justice isn't something from 50 years ago. It's something that's happening now," Gold said.
How to Get Involved
Each year, it takes between 60 and 80 Whitman students to volunteer their time and teach the civil rights lessons from Jan. 22-Feb. 1, 2019. Participant training is Jan. 16-17, 2019. In exchange for just a few hours of volunteering over two weeks, the impact on student volunteers and public school participants can be massive.
"My favorite part of the program is watching the college students gain confidence while teaching. Their presence in the classroom creates higher levels of student engagement, sharing and participation," said Michelle Higgins, social studies teacher at Walla Walla High School.
Now in her seventh year working with Whitman, Shuster is optimistic about the strides in civic engagement WTTM is making.
"I'm hopeful that students will feel less bound than did people in previous generations and stake out new ground as activists," Shuster said.
Applications to volunteer for the 2019 WTTM program are due by December 3, 2018. For more information, contact program leaders Maddy Gold or Bryn Hines at firstname.lastname@example.org.