Jordan Crawford '21 listens to discussion during a meeting of Whitman's Men of Color Association.
Jordan Crawford '21 listens to discussion during a meeting of Whitman's Men of Color Association.

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When he was growing up in Jamaica, Jordon Crawford '21 was taught a simple lesson: Make the world better.

And that's just what he's trying to do at Whitman College.

"I was always drilled, ‘Each one helps one.' You always make things better than you found it," said the junior race and ethnic studies and politics double major. "I decided to change things for the better in any way, shape or form that I could."

Since coming to Whitman as a Davis United World College (UWC) Scholar in 2017, Crawford has partnered with others to improve the experience for international and underrepresented students, particularly other men of color.

"The concept of ‘race' was foreign to me before coming to the U.S.," said Crawford, who grew up in a predominantly black country, and then had attended a UWC international school in Germany. But after arriving in Walla Walla, he was in the minority. The experience influenced his decision to study race and ethnic studies and politics, with the hopes of going into law.

"I went from being Jordon, the black man, to the black man who is Jordon," he said. "I became very intrigued about the role and importance of race in social settings. The race and ethnic studies courses really gave me the tools and the vocabulary to interact with those structures."

Creating a Community for Men of Color

Crawford came to Whitman a little bit by accident. Whitman has a partnership with the Davis UWC Scholars Program, which runs 18 schools on five continents. UWC Scholars earn an international baccalaureate, and then receive financial support to continue their studies at a U.S. partner school. Crawford looked at Whitman because of the partnership, but didn't realize that Washington was its own state. The budding lawyer thought he was coming to study in the nation's capital. When he realized his error, it was too late - he'd submitted his application Early Decision, and his college counselor encouraged him to honor that commitment.

Then he landed in Pasco, Washington.

"I panicked. Driving in - seeing nothing but the sweltering August heat, nothing but wheat fields and brown - it was weird," he said. "I got here, and I was one of the only people who looked like me at the time. It was this question of where do I fit in? Where does my Jamaican-ness fit in? Where are my talents best used? What's my community?"

Crawford admitted he considered transferring, but instead remembered what his family taught him, and committed to helping Whitman become a place that can be home for students like him.

"When I saw other black men on campus, I didn't know them. That felt weird," he said. "What I realized was there wasn't a space for men of color to come together in fellowship and talk and demand things from Whitman, and hold institutions accountable."

In 2018, Crawford and Segun Sodipo '18, Asare Buahin '20, Fathi Assegaf '18, Kalilou Ali Kadiri '22, and Bornnie Kabongo '22 created the Men of Color Association, or MOCA. The group brings men of color together weekly to build relationships and talk about what they are facing.

"We talk about things like sports, or police brutality, or power and privilege, or interracial relationships," he said. The group also started the Barbershop Project.

"Black hair is a big part of black culture, but in Walla Walla, finding people who can cater to that need is rare," Crawford said. MOCA partnered with three local barbers, who agreed to come cut hair on campus for free. Donations during the event were given to the Walla Walla Music Foundation, which supports at-risk youth with after-school music programs. This year, the project will support Friends of Children of Walla Walla, a resilience-based child mentoring group.

Expanding the Conversation around Privilege

MOCA isn't the only way he's giving back at Whitman. This year, Crawford is the executive chair for the Power and Privilege Symposium, the college's annual daylong examination of social issues and structures. Crawford is working to make Power and Privilege more inclusive by encouraging majority group students to participate.

"In years past, Power and Privilege has been seen exclusively as something for people of color. But racism isn't going to be stopped by people of color," Crawford said. "We need white students to stop racism. We need men to solve the patriarchy. We need cisgendered folk to solve transphobia."

Crawford is also a member of the college's Debate Team, participates in orientation and has served as a tour guide for the Admission Office.

"I have seen Jordon in these last three years grow and transform in ways that are almost unprecedented. From a UWC graduate who was not sure whether Whitman was in Washington state or D.C., and wondered whether this was a place he could belong and thrive, to a prominent presence on campus," said Kazi Joshua, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. "As a man of color on Whitman's campus, when Jordon saw that there was no group dedicated to their thriving, he founded one. That in a nutshell is Jordon: He identifies issues, analyzes them, creates a plan, involves others and tries to solve the situation. He is a born leader, gifted and intellectually brilliant."