Zidane Galant La-Porte talks with another student at dinner.
Zidane Galant-LaPorte 21, right, talks with other students at an SEC-sponsored dinner celebrating community service in spring 2019. (Photo by Katy Laliotis '21)

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For spring semester 2020, Zidane Galant-LaPorte ’21 is taking courses on the sociology of health and illness, social movements and social change, and U.S. constitutional law.

“It’s a very interesting semester to be in those classes,” said Galant-LaPorte, a sociology major from Redmond, Oregon. She is grateful and enthused for the opportunities to link current events to her academics in unprecedented ways.

Even before COVID-19 hit Washington and forced the closure of Whitman College’s Walla Walla campus in March, Galant-LaPorte was already talking about the novel coronavirus in her health and illness class, led by Associate Professor and Garrett Fellow Alissa Cordner. 

“We’ve talked about COVID-19 literally since the beginning of the semester,” Galant-LaPorte said. “Every week, it just got closer and closer and closer. It’s been interesting thinking through from the sociological standpoint. There’s going to be more than just health repercussions from this. It is interesting to think about what kind of social change is going to come out of this.”

Conversations around sociology and community health have been central to Galant-LaPorte’s time at Whitman, even before she started classes.

As a first-year student, Galant-LaPorte signed up to participate in SCORE, which stands for Summer Community OutReach Engagements. SCORE is one of three Immersions programs held in conjunction with New Student Orientation. Organized by students in the Student Engagement Center (SEC), the experiences connect incoming students with the Walla Walla community through direct service, engagement and reflection.

“It was an opportunity that no other school I was looking at had,” Galant-LaPorte said. She was eager to learn about her new home in Walla Walla. “Being from a small town, I was like, ‘I’m going to go into this new small town and be as aware and knowledgeable as I can be.’”

She participated in the Food and Hunger SCORE, which focused on food insecurity and food access in the Walla Walla Valley. The participants visited local farms, the Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) food bank and the farmers market, along with many other local organizations.

“I really did feel like I was part of the Walla Walla community way before I felt like I was part of the Whitman community,” she said. “That feeling I had of being connected to a place was really important to me. Transitioning to college was a really scary thing. Being grounded in the community made me feel like it was going to be OK.”

A Continued Interest in Walla Walla

Since her SCORE, Galant-LaPorte’s connection to the Walla Walla community has only grown. She became the first first-year student to become the SCORE intern at the SEC, in charge of organizing and overseeing the program for the next cohort.

This spring, she was recognized for her community leadership and impact with the Newman Civic Fellowship, a national award given by Campus Compact. The yearlong fellowship emphasizes personal, professional and civic growth for students who have already demonstrated a capacity for leadership and large-scale problem-solving.

Galant-LaPorte led SCORE for two years, even helping to transition it from a seven-day program to a five-day program, and working with the college to make the program even more accessible for incoming first-years. She also collaborated with the Walla Walla County Community Health Department to create a new SCORE theme: Community Health. 

“SCORE is focused on developing that Walla Walla identity, and really connecting people with a place rather than just the college,” she said.

For many participants, their SCORE experience leads to continued engagement in the community throughout their four years at Whitman. 

“It really is kind of this ‘gateway’ into community engagement at Whitman,” she said.

Exploring Public Health

It certainly proved true for Galant-LaPorte, who in addition to leading SCORE for two years, also participated in the Buddy Program and served as a resident assistant for the Community Service House, an alternative resident hall for students interested in giving back to Walla Walla. 

She also received a Whitman Internship Grant to work at the Umatilla County Health Department, where she was assisting with a reproductive needs assessment. Galant-LaPorte was compiling and analyzing data to help the department understand how to better provide information about cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccines to the local community. 

“For the last two and half years, I’ve been pretty set on doing public-health related things,” Galant-LaPorte said. She’s interested in the policy aspects of public health, but also in teaching. Eventually she’d like to go to graduate school and meld her interests into an interdisciplinary field, and settle in a rural area, maybe even Walla Walla!

But she still has one year left to continue working in Walla Walla, giving back and inspiring other students to as well. Especially given the current crisis, Galant-LaPorte is anticipating many opportunities for learning and collaborating as the communities heal and rebuild from the virus.

“A lot of people think that four years is a short time, but in reality, it’s the time that you have, and maximizing what you do in that time is important,” she said. “The community was here before we got here, and they’ll be here when we leave, but that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with them in some meaningful way, and learn from them.”