While gender, race and socioeconomic class are factors commonly associated with issues of power and privilege, a person's health status should be considered as well.
"Looking at us, you don't know we're ill," said Phyllis Pawa '21, one of several students who spoke on the panel "Health as a Privilege" at this year's Power & Privilege Symposium.
"Attacking Apathy" was the theme of this year's symposium, held Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in classrooms and lecture halls across Whitman College's campus.
Pawa and her fellow panelists shared their deeply personal stories of how they struggle to deal with a variety of chronic illnesses while attending classes. They also shared their experiences encountering oftentimes blasé attitudes from peers and, surprisingly, even medical providers.
"Some people think we're imagining the pain, or just looking for pain meds, or that we're overdramatizing," said Charlotte Simons '19, who was diagnosed with endometriosis and interstitial cystitis as a teenager. "Believing in us is the most important thing."
To counteract apathy toward health issues, the students suggested that people simply trust the feelings of those who have chronic illness. "We know our bodies and what is best for ourselves," said Karyssa Stonick '22, who has a genetic connective tissue disorder.
A broad range of other topics was addressed in seminars during the daylong symposium — from non-binary pronouns, body liberation and social justice, to asexuality and aromanticism, confronting white fragility, and rethinking sustainability.
The Women in STEM Club hosted a panel discussion addressing the stereotypes surrounding what scientists look and act like.
"Frizzy hair, glasses, lab coat, flask of unidentified liquid, male, white — Einstein, right?" said physics/astronomy major Teagan King '19, who told of her first day in physics class. As the only woman in attendance, she wondered, "Do I belong here?"
Women who pursue careers in the predominantly white male-dominated fields of sciences often feel pressured to conform to gender stereotypes by downplaying their femininity and being more assertive, and they also face greater societal pressure to succeed.
"The attendance at the sessions was unprecedented," Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Kazi Joshua said. "It showed both how well the student leaders had organized the symposium and the consistent interest in ongoing dialogue about our life together as community and how we can create a place where all belong. The workshops offered a lot of choices dealing with matters of oppression, social justice and social transformation."