Whitman students, faculty and staff explored urgent topics ranging from race and gender to identity and rights at the fifth annual student-run Power & Privilege Symposium. The daylong event took place on Feb. 22 all across campus, with dozens of presentations to choose from. Classes once again were cancelled so students could go, and faculty and staff were encouraged to participate.
Biology major Catherine Barton '18 attended More Speech! Not Less Speech. It was led by politics majors Kyla Rapp '18, Erin Lopez '19 and Annamarie McCorvie '18 and explored freedom of speech in an academic context. "They talked about free speech and how that connects fundamentally to underlying issues like racism and white supremacy," said Barton. "And I'm just grappling with my own ideas and what I feel."
Physics major Thomas Harris '20 checked out Hold the Fries, Eat the Rich: Class Warfare in the Fast Food Industry, presented by organizers from the Burgerville Workers Union. "There were so many things that they shared that I just wouldn't have even thought about" regarding contemporary labor organizing, Harris remarked. He cited examples of how resistance from management for better wages, conditions, healthcare and safety required increasingly more forceful tactics from the advocates.
Chemistry major Kacey Godwin '20 picked The Power of Silence, a look at the Asian-American experience from the perspective of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology major Jessica Luong '20. "It will be interesting to be in that community and hear experiences similar to my own while still different in many ways," Godwin said, "and have discussions that we wouldn't normally have just walking around campus every day."
Godwin also went to Dialogue on Genetics, Ancestry, and Race, offered by Susanne Altermann, lecturer in biology; Britney Moss, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology; and Helen Kim, professor of sociology. Godwin's takeaway was about "the misconceptions we have surrounding genetic and biological bases for race and how we're supposed to navigate that."
Biology major Madeline Boyle '20 wanted to go to that session because, "First of all, it relates to the major I'm in," she said. "Also, I know a lot of people who have taken genetic tests," and "I'm curious to learn how geneticists do this and whether it's legitimate and what it means to be, like, 20.2 percent European."
Caryn Pooley, account coordinator in student accounts in the business office, expressed a similar motivation. "I'm curious about my own family history," she observed. "I don't know a whole lot about how genetics works, so I wanted to get more familiar with it" and "to figure out if doing one of those DNA tests would be useful."
Anthony Reale '19, a theatre and English double major, "learned that we have to put pressure on the medical community," he said, "because race is a constructed thing and race won't lead you to understand if someone is predisposed to a disease of some sort. It's more about environment and kind of history of the person."
Reale also planned to be at Voices from the Margins: Spiritual Identity at Whitman, led by biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology major Robin Rounthwaite '18, economics-environmental studies major Sarah Schenkein '20, economics and politics double major Fathi Assegaf '19, rhetoric studies and race and ethnic studies double major Marlene Anderson '18, anthropology major Aly Counsell '18 and rhetoric studies major Natalie Godfrey '18. "I, myself, am a spiritual person," Reale said, "so I hope to hear from others who consider themselves spiritual as well."
English major Sal Goldblatt '20 selected Perspectives in Sexual Assault: Male Victims, by psychology major Noah Cavanaugh '18, "because this topic hits close to home," he said. "So I'm going to go with looking at it from a different perspective."
Also on Goldblatt's list: Identity Insecurity in the Modern Minority, a lecture by Chloe Holaso '20 and Mariah Howell '20. "I went in thinking it was going to be about performing a certain part of your culture," he said, "but it's about having that part of your culture not actually being there and it being assumed that you do a lot of things because of the color of your skin."
Other symposium topics included parenting choices, Latinx identities, mental illness and the criminal justice system, working with refugees, sexual harassment in the workplace, political performance writing, and the problems of Disney characters pertaining to racial identity for people of color. The theme for this year's symposium was resist.
Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson delivered the keynote address the evening before in Cordiner Hall. "Hope is not power," he said. "Hope is hard work."