Whitman students and community members meet at the Walla Walla Public library to discuss "Teaching Justice: Civil Rights Education in Walla Walla Schools" on April 13.
Whitman students and community members meet at the Walla Walla Public library to discuss "Teaching Justice: Civil Rights Education in Walla Walla Schools" on April 13.

Photography by Nhi Cao '20

Staff report

Whitman College continued its commitment to its neighbors by cohosting a series of weekend community forums in mid-April at the Walla Walla Public Library. The events, collectively called "Walla Walla Talks," reinforced Whitman's mission to help its students further their passion for conscientious citizenry. This mindfulness becomes all the more imperative since Washington state earned a D in civil rights education, according to a 2014 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Discussion topics included "Teaching Justice: Civil Rights Education in Walla Walla Schools," "Homelessness in Your Backyard: How Can Walla Walla Help House Their Homeless?" and "Local Student Health: How Can the Health Center Expand Its Reach?" Almost 100 people participated, including students from Whitman, Walla Walla University and local high schools, along with Whitman staff and faculty, former and current teachers and staff with Walla Walla Public Schools, stakeholders and others. Whitman students in Fundamentals of Public Address, offered by the Department of Rhetoric Studies, worked in groups to devise a deliberation, a semi-structured guided discussion.

"Opportunities for community members from diverse perspectives and backgrounds to get together to talk, not at but with one another, about issues that are important to them are increasingly harder to come by," said Kaitlyn Patia, visiting instructor of rhetoric studies. "The goal of these events was to open up spaces for folks to focus on understanding others' perspectives as much as voicing their own and to cultivate the energy around these issues to begin to look toward action."

The Walla Walla Public Library and Whitman's Department of Rhetoric Studies co-sponsored the event, which was supported by a Diversity Innovation Grant from Whitman College.