On Any Given Day at Whitman
6:07 a.m. Physical education
Dawn still slumbers, but not all is quiet on the Whitman front. The Baker Ferguson Fitness Center opens at 6 a.m. every school day. This morning Dr. George Ball, 93, Weyerhaeuser Professor of Biblical Literature, Emeritus, is pumping iron on the ISO-lateral shoulder press machine. Donna Jones ’76 is counting leg presses, and DeBurgh Professor of Social Sciences William Bogard is riding high on an elliptical. Across the foyer from the exercise room, the Whitman swim team is knifing through its crack-of-dawn lap practice. All are beneficiaries of the $10 million BFFC and its Harvey Pool, a combined 38,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility not yet two years old.
8:00 a.m. Great debate
Or 8 p.m. Or dead of night, crack of dawn for all that the time of day matters to Whitman’s debate squad. This is a group with an aversion to sleep. The clock they care about is the one counting the seconds for their arguments. Even the practice sessions behind closed doors in Hunter Conservatory are fast and furious. “The debates are intense,” says Jim Hanson, professor of forensics. “The question-and-answer sessions are great for challenging each other’s ideas.”
Whitman’s great debate tradition, begun in 1898, is long, proud and integral to the academic mission of the college. William O. Douglas ’20, the longest-seated justice in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, cut his policy and parliamentary teeth here. Bishop Othal Lakey ’57 debated here. The school is the smallest college in the nation to qualify three teams to the National Debate Tournament championship. For the second straight year Hanson’s team earned the No. 1 ranking in the country in combined policy and parliamentary debate, outpointing the University of Wyoming after unseating the University of California at Berkeley in 2007.
10:03 a.m. Core and more
“This is where textual interpretation becomes important,” Professor of Philosophy David Carey tells the dozen students clustered at a conference table in Olin Hall. Carey’s Core class has arrived at a problematic sentence in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. A footnote suggests three different ways to consider Paul’s understanding of the Jewish people. “Are there other interpretations?” Carey asks. “Do those exhaust the possibilities?” Apparently not. Stephen Over ’11 launches into a new thread of discussion and poses his own suggestion.
Whitman’s required Antiquity and Modernity class (colloquially known as “Core”) enlists professors from all disciplines. Biology and English professors tackle Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” with equal gusto, tracing a lineage of Western thought. “The thing to see here is how thorny this is for Paul,” Carey suggests to his class. “It is worth wrestling with this. This clash between Jews and Christians is one of the great multicultural encounters that gives rise to the modern world.”
Across campus in Maxey Hall, Assistant Professor of Sociology Helen Kim’s Critical and Alternative Voices class — an optional extension to Core — discusses a different multicultural encounter in Amitav Ghosh’s “In an Antique Land.” “It challenges the thread of Greek antiquity to European and American modernity, which Core poses, by focusing on a region of the world and a time period which Core does not cover,” Kim says of Ghosh’s text.
Later, the 14 students in Kim’s class discuss their final projects, many of which involve the Walla Walla community. Natalie Popovich ’10 and Elena Gustafson ’10, for example, are examining Walla Walla residents’ perceptions of environmental justice along racial and class lines. Antiquity and modernity meet the real world.
10:07 a.m. Living interests
Call it Sunday in the Recycling Center with Steve. This is the hour and day every week that Steve Shoemaker ’11 and his roommates at the Environmental House — a.k.a. the Outhouse — jump into Whitman’s “big, busted blue recycling truck” and comb the neighborhood of campus residences for recycling contributions. Glass, paper, plastic, cardboard, batteries — the four housemates and one resident assistant (Shoemaker) who call the Outhouse home this term take it all, filling drum after storage drum with recyclables.
“The Outhouse has a common environmental cause that attracts students from very different backgrounds,” says Shoemaker, a politics major. “There’s diversity within commonality, which is a great thing.” The Outhouse, opened in 1981, is one of 11 Interest Houses on campus, each with a particular focus. The solar thermal system at the Outhouse is four years old, the photovoltaics date to 2002, and the commode in the front yard has been a fixture — and a planter for primroses — for years.
Bon Appétit delivers dinner to the Outhouse and its IH neighbors four days of the week. Every Sunday two different Interest Houses cook brunch for the others. “Getting to know other students over a communal meal is pretty cool,” says Shoemaker.
10:40 a.m. Creative release
The game is “Zombies,” and its rules are simple:
- Either love or hate Zombies.
- Own a bandana.
- Be OK with the roaming Zombie Horde chasing after you, eating your flesh, and then accepting you as their Zombie friend.
If you can stomach these stipulations, then Humans versus Zombies might be for you. The game has proved popular at Whitman and across the country. One Whitman contest last year involved more than 200 players. “We get a lot of strange looks,” says Carrie Laxson ’10, taking a break from the action in the safe haven of Penrose Library. It’s a welcome respite after an early-morning mad dash from Memorial Building. Laxson was chased down in what she calls “a sophisticated game of elementary school tag.”
Sophisticated it is. The game’s extensive Web site, run by Patrick Herman ’08, tracks players’ status and statistics, alerting participants to new developments and the occasional “mission.” “It’s a fun way to engage,” Laxson says. “I’ve met a lot of people because of Zombies. It (tests) how innovative Whitties can be.”
11:15 a.m. Walk the talk
The line forms here. And there. And over there. A crush of prospective students and their parents fills the first floor of Penrose House, home of Whitman’s presidents until 1995, now headquarters for the Office of Admission and Financial Aid. From the front door of Penrose, three times a day — 8:30, 11 and 2:30 — student guides lead hour-long tours of campus. Ankeny Field is wireless as well as a field of dreams for intramural sports, they note. Student academic advisers are ready and willing to help with term-paper editing at midnight.
Sarah Deming ’10 of Tacoma, Wash., president of Whitman’s Black Student Union, is one of the tour guides. She’ll walk a mile and then some for Whitman, the better part of it backward on her tours. She’s done it for a year, “loved it and learned a lot about the college from it.”
“Most of all I love meeting all the students I gave tours to who end up coming here,” she says.
11:52 a.m. Human tapestry
Eight minutes shy of showtime and already this year’s Imagine Celebration, brought to you by the Intercultural Center, has lived up to its name. A band of Whitman first-years called Lucid Dream is plugged in and ready to romp on the Coffeehouse stage of Reid Campus Center. The group is the opening act in a four-hour community celebration of diversity at Whitman and in Walla Walla.
The omnipresent La Monarcha taco truck is parked outside. All is right in the world except the unusually cool spring weather, which forced the festival indoors. Not to worry, however. The stairs leading to the Coffeehouse are festooned with flags of the world’s nations. Mukulu Mweu, associate dean of students for intercultural programs and services, and Andrés Dankel-Ibáñez, assistant director of the Intercultural Center, are spreading their usual cheer. Reggae-calypso band Andy O is here, with enough interior sunshine in its playlist to go around. Life — to say nothing of La Monarcha’s fish tacos — is good.
12:52 p.m. Music from the heart
While their colleagues are hoisting lunch trays, the 97-member Whitman College Chorale is lifting every voice in song. The company’s spring concert — Mozart’s “Requiem”— is six days away, and conductor Robert Bode, Alma Meisnest Endowed Chair of Humanities, is leaving nothing to chance. His conducting gestures are meticulous, his instructions precise. “Don’t hold onto the diminuendo,” he says. “Let its purpose serve as style.”
The Chorale is open to all Whitman students through audition. Out of it comes the select chorus, the 30-member Whitman College Chamber Singers. Several from both groups have gone on to music careers. “There are no ‘stars’ in a chorus,” Bode says. “Everyone works hard to meld. The experience can be life-changing.”
Despite hectic academic and activity schedules, students volunteer thousands of hours a year in the Walla Walla community. Many of those hours are spent mentoring and reading to children through the Whitman Mentor Program, the Story Time Project and Dr. Seuss Day. Here, Anna Forge ’11 talks to a young boy who is fascinated with her blue “hair” at Dr. Seuss Day, a community event organized by Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members to kick off National Reading Day.
1:10 p.m. Fulbright Fellow on the job
She’s on her feet five or more shifts a week, wiping down counters, refilling the salad bar, changing 40-pound milk boxes, spinning from food station to station — a dervish in Prentiss Dining Room. But Suzanne Zitzer ’08 (summa cum laude at Commencement with honors in German studies) is delighted to be a student manager for Bon Appétit, Whitman’s food service provider. “After a strenuous shift I feel more ready than ever to return to an essay,” she says.
Her favorite moment on the job? “Working the Lunar New Year dinner shift when a friend of mine played the guqin (a Chinese zither).” The method in balancing work and study? “I constantly make lists and use my planner to keep me on track. Learning is a deep passion of mine, so I always make time to get my work done and stay focused.” Zitzer also dances off the job, gardens and works out — all for good reason and result. She’s a Fulbright research recipient poised to study German environmental policy at the University of Leipzig. In short, she thrives on a life in motion.
2:22 p.m. Group chemistry
Day-Glo is not dead at Whitman. One glance at Associate Professor of Chemistry Allison Calhoun’s advanced chemistry lab puts all doubt to rest. There, on the south wall of Science 251, hanging like a ’60s fashion statement, is a family of tie-dyed lab coats. Calhoun’s students created them at the beginning of the term on an overnight retreat at Whitman’s Johnston Wilderness Campus.
The purpose of the project was hardly haute couture. One goal in advanced chemistry is to master critical thinking and problem-solving. The first exercise in the class examines the chemical and physical origins of color, thus the iridescent lab coats. “We use the time at the wilderness campus to prepare for the rigor of the course,” says Calhoun. “These are highly prepared first-year chemistry students, but the course is extremely challenging for even the strongest students. We examine the origin of color while building a toolbox of successful study habits for the class. The lab coats are a way of advertising that chemistry isn’t sterile, that it’s a creative endeavor.”
2:48 p.m. Field of dreams — and leaders
They began the season in fine form, taking two of three games from Occidental College on the road in Los Angeles. They closed it on a determined note, splitting a four-game series with perennial rival Whitworth University. The Whitman men’s baseball team took their lumps during the season, and contended with wind-blown days that rivaled anything that Wrigley Field has seen. But baseball Coach Casey Powell’s young club (13 first-years and sophomores on a roster of 23) were gamers to a man, from pitcher Sam Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior (“He has a great attitude every time he walks onto the field,” says Powell) to team co-captain Luke Marshall, who led the regulars the previous spring with a .316 batting average. They also learned about leadership to complement their scholarship. Adam Knappe ’08 (pictured here), who earned All-Northwest Conference honorable mention, made the transition from shortstop to second base, where he helped turn 24 double plays. “Adam made tremendous strides in his four seasons,” said Powell, “and became a good team leader on the field.”
3:37 p.m. Liberating arts
For the moment, she’s in the printmaking studio at Olin Hall, turning out pieces for the annual Senior Art Thesis Exhibition. Soon she and her cello will be in a practice room of the Hall of Music, preparing for a Whitman Symphony Orchestra concert. This evening, she’ll likely be at a library desk, drafting another personal essay for the student literary journal blue moon. Emma Wood ’08, of Klamath Falls, Ore., isn’t sure “which place I inhabit most.” She only knows she’s more often there than in her room at Anderson Hall, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “I remember staying up all night in my first year to make an art book,” Wood says. The inspiration? Plato’s “Symposium” in Zahi Zalloua’s Core class. “I couldn’t help myself,” she said. Wood’s experience at Whitman has made her an avowed interdisciplinarian. An excerpt from one of her blue moon contributions, “Riding Home Roses,” is sure evidence. It reads: “I am awed by the way that such fragile starts as my bike lesson pick up speed with time and comfort. I often say now that riding a bike is the closest you get to earthbound flying, with that carefree speed at which trees shine and people pass like streaks of flying color ...” Next year Wood likely will be in Honduras, teaching art and music. Beyond that is a mystery, but whatever comes to her will surely feel like flying.
3:50 p.m. Twin billing
Duets may come easily for first-years Dawn ’11 and Nicole Angus ’11, cavorting as they are through an impromptu rehearsal of Pablo de Sarasate’s “Navarra,” sans piano, in the sweet acoustic space of Kimball Theatre. For starters, they’re identical twins. They’ve played violin together for nine years. They’ve sung in choral groups together for seven years. And they may be the only violinists on the planet who’ve also perfected the art of pole-vaulting. “We have a lot of shared interests,” says Dawn. “Steel-drum bands are also high on the list.” “It’s a good way to balance the academic work,” says Nicole.
The twins, who hail from Mercer Island, Wash., and divide their playing time between the Whitman Orchestra and the Walla Walla Symphony, learned firsthand about Whitman’s tradition of excellence in music through a family friend, Whitman alumnus Bruce Bailey ’62, who plays cello in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. They took a lesson with Amy Dodds, adjunct assistant professor of music, and were sold on the college. “It felt right,” says Nicole. Dawn nods. “We like the strong academics here,” she adds.
5:09 p.m. Shared spirit
Home every Friday at 5 p.m. for the Hillel-Shalom Group is the Spiritual Activities Room in the basement of Prentiss Hall. There the group gathers around a long wooden table to celebrate Shabbat (the Hebrew word for Sabbath), a day of rest traditionally observed by Jews from sundown Friday until the appearance of three stars in the night sky Saturday.
For years the Spiritual Activities Room was the Tri Delta sorority chapter room. Today, after extensive renovation in the summer of 2007, it is a warm, well-lighted place for individual meditation, memorial observances and gatherings of religious groups on campus. Stuart Religious Counselor Adam Kirtley directs activities.
Above all, the room is a reminder to the Whitman community that intellectual pursuits and a spiritual life aren’t mutually exclusive. “People get different things out of Hillel-Shalom, but I’d say most people come for the community,” says Danny Kaplan ’10.
5:25 p.m. Master-piece theater
Call it the little shop of chores — all fun — at least for the duration of an afternoon workshop. Backstage at Harper Joy Theatre, visiting guest artist Mary McClung (formerly adjunct assistant professor of theatre), is instructing a group of students in the art of mask-making. More precisely, the project is character masks, archetypal faces modeled broadly on Euripides’ tragedy, “Medea.” The ingredients: upholstery foam, cheesecloth and white glue affixed to plastic facial forms. McClung’s instruction: “Try to avoid big webs of cloth over the eyes.”
The play is indeed the thing at HJT, named after Harper Joy ’22. Nagle Jackson ’58, the first American theater director invited to work in the Soviet Union, got his start here. Each year eight plays are produced, one reason why Whitman’s theater program is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by the Princeton Review.
6:09 p.m. Scholars without borders
His contribution included 3 a.m. e-mail notes about Derrida to her. Her work took dead aim on the ethics of reading literature through a multicultural scope. Their vehicles: Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea,” J.M. Coetzee’s “Foe” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” And the reward for the scholarship and midnight oil? Assistant Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar and senior Nani Gilkerson ’08, a race and ethnic studies major, received this year’s Adam Dublin Award for the Study of Global Multiculturalism.
On the afternoon marking the award, Majumdar and Gilkerson aren’t having their cake and Veuve Clicquot. They’re presenting the fruits of their collaborative effort to faculty, students and staff, and thanking each other for the opportunity. “Gaurav was overwhelmingly committed to this project,” says Gilkerson. Says Majumdar: “Nani did her work with intense concentration and curiosity. Her project is an elegant, alert and scrupulously researched argument.”
It has been a very good year for more than Majumdar and Gilkerson. Whitman students in 2007-08 reaped a record harvest of major awards: five Fulbrights (three declined for other awards), three Watsons, two Trumans and a Udall, among many. In each, Gilkerson’s words about her own blue-ribbon project might well apply: “Our challenge was to offer ... an awareness that we have a responsibility to read with an eye for difference.”
8:16 p.m. Event central
Sandy McDade ’74, senior vice president and general counsel of the Weyerhaeuser Company, is fielding questions about the role of forests in the carbon cycle from an audience of students, faculty, alumni and staff in Gaiser Auditorium. Across campus, in Kimball Theatre, Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine, is reading from his own work. It’s another weeknight of balance and abundance on the Whitman events calendar.
“It is well understood… that trees store carbon,” McDade says. “What is less often discussed is the fact that wood products manufactured from the forest also continue to sequester carbon.”
Though he’ll spend most of this evening articulating the role of forests in the carbon cycle, McDade can’t resist, as a prelude to his talk, reminiscing about another tradition — rich in variation, environmental in a twisted sort of way, and now sadly extinct — at his alma mater. The game was “laking,” and the object was plain and simple: Dump first-years into the still waters of Lakum Duckum, and let them experience the world of pond scum. In 1970, McDade was among them. More accurately, he was one of the less fortunate of them. When his rite of passage arrived, it wasn’t just the emperor who had no clothes. And the emperor didn’t have to figure out how to get back to Sigma Chi house in, well, a state of nature.
9:02 p.m. Learned visitors
Seven former U.S. poet laureates have come to Whitman through the annual Walt Whitman Lecture series. Richard Wilbur, 87 and unflagging, is one of them. He is blithely signing copies of his book, “Collected Poems 1943-2004,” after a generous reading that often had his audience in stitches. Half an hour ago, he was lamenting the “formalist” label that critics have pinned on him. “I find ‘formalist’ and ‘formaldehyde’ too close to each other in the dictionary for my comfort,” Wilbur allowed.
11:37 p.m. Health haven
Welty Health Center Nurse Jennifer Shields has heard the story before: “Big test coming up,” a student tells her at the front desk. “And a roommate who just finished one.” It’s “fairly full at the inn” tonight — six inpatients, one with high fever and nausea — but not so full that Shields has to turn away a late walk-in who simply needs a good night’s rest. The Health Center is open 24 hours a day during the academic year, the only round-the-clock college facility of its kind in the Northwest. The reward for Shields’ work? “The students, absolutely the students. To see them so excited about being at Whitman, and appreciative of what we do, leaves you with a good feeling in your heart.”
11:45 p.m. Peer support
While “Late Show with David Letterman” is playing on TVs across the country, Writing Center tutor Rose Jackson ’08 is poring over a first-year’s Core paper, debating the relative merits of Rousseau and Wordsworth and gently reminding a student to avoid the passive voice and “keep your tenses straight.” “It’s interesting reading about things I wouldn’t necessarily encounter on my own,” says Jackson, a Spanish major. “It’s fun when I can help students, and they’re grateful. I see them on campus; we say hello.”
The Writing Center, a brightly lit room tucked away in Olin Hall and adorned with Magnetic Poetry, is open more than 60 hours a week for students who need advice about participles, thesis statements and citation formatting. Nathan Mallon ’12, who’s reading in a corner of the room, says the center is “a warm, easy, relaxing place to work.” The ever-present candy basket is often an added incentive to ask for help with structuring a five-pager.
1:51 a.m. Coffee, please
In the basement of Penrose Library is a coffee bar, Café 41. In the bar is a line of students. On the south wall near them is a clock that tells correct time: nine minutes shy of 2 a.m. To each of the students, the time yields a simple conclusion: the night is young, with a little help from a cup of liquid enthusiasm. Or assorted biscotti. Or brownies, Café 41’s best-seller. Or all of the above for the occasional all-nighter. “We slow down after midnight, but they’re back again before we close at 2,” says Lindsey Danoth, a Bon Appétit barista. “We sell a lot of food late. A lot. We usually run out of brownies. They’re a valuable commodity anytime.” For those on a budget, drip coffee is the drink of choice. Cheap and quick. Mocha and chai are spendier favorites. “The students are serious about their drinks,” says Danoth, too busy frothing a latte to notice that Devo’s “Whip It” is playing on her portable radio. “It makes sense. They’re pretty serious about school, too.”
3:00 a.m. Tradition and challenge
“In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning,” F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote. At 3 a.m. on a weekend, finals just around the corner, there are several souls in the Allen Reading Room of Penrose Library. None, however, seems troubled. On the contrary, all are plugged in — to laptops as well as lecture notes.
Nate Wells ’11 will be here until 4:38 this morning. For that feat, he will win the Allen Room Challenge, bestowed on the last person to leave the reading room each day. As evidence, Wells will sign and date the Allen Room black book on the fireplace mantel. He will not celebrate with song or dance before leaving, as the Allen Challenge recommends. But he will write these words in the book. “Once again I find myself in the pleasant company of, well, myself. It is quite peaceful and serene, alone here by the crackling fire ... Friday night: I find the sweet intoxication of books much preferable to the alternative.”
Wells won’t set the Allen Challenge record for the month. That honor will go to Nathan Mallon ’11 who checked in at 7:15 p.m. on a Sunday and didn’t leave until 7:30 a.m. Monday. His epic stay began with Howard Gardner’s book, “Frame of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.” Around midnight, Mallon started wondering about how computers learn. At 2 a.m., he forgot how to write the letter “f.” The lapse, apparently, was temporary. Mallon’s last words in the black book read: “Fun times.”
— Keith Raether and Katie Combs '08