Whitman College and Diversity
Like many small, private, selective liberal arts colleges located in remote rural communities, Whitman College has historically struggled to achieve the diversity amongst its staff, faculty and students reflected in the larger world.
But we believe the intellectual, ethical, and social development of our students is best served when the academic community in which they live and study reflects the increasingly diverse world into which they will graduate. To that end, Whitman’s efforts in recent years strongly demonstrate the College’s determination to extend its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Following are a few, but not all, of the actions undertaken.
An Organizational Strategy for Diversity
- The College has hired a Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion who reports directly to the President as a member of the senior Cabinet.
- The Board of Trustees maintains a subcommittee on Diversity and in 2005 endorsed a statement on the Value of Diversity at Whitman.
- The Board of Trustees has approved an increase to the College’s annual ‘discount rate’, in order to further support access and support for diverse students.
- The College has formed a cross-disciplinary committee of faculty, staff, and students, chaired by the VP of Diversity and Inclusion, called the Whitman Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Committee (WIDE). In two years’ time, that committee has
- Drafted a Diversity Strategic Plan for Whitman.
- Conducted a campus-wide Climate Study, focused largely on gauging the College’s perceived progress toward creating an equitable and inclusive community. Related action plans are being developed.
- In 2015, the College was successful in securing Mellon Foundation funding to begin comprehensive diversity planning work.
- The College is currently preparing a new comprehensive strategic plan. Among the top five intentional ‘planks’ of the strategic plan are Diversity and Access.
- Whitman was among the first liberal arts colleges to offer admission to undocumented students. This commitment has been further reinforced by policies designed to protect the security, safety, and confidentiality of all members of our community, regardless of national origin or immigration status.
- The President of the College issued a statement in response to President Trump's January 2017 order banning entry to the U.S. by immigrants from seven countries.
- The College’s Admission and Financial Aid organization has progressively improved its draw of under-represented students through intentional initiatives. The student body is now 20.6% students of color, with an additional 5.8% comprised of international students.
Strengthening Support for Diversity and Inclusion
- The College has increased staffing of the Intercultural Center, which works to strengthen Whitman’s intercultural community and ensure a positive Whitman experience for those from historically under-represented backgrounds, including international students.
- The College has developed a summer ‘fly-in’ program for first-year first-generation or working class students from across the country for a special pre-semester orientation program designed, with the aim of easing the transition to college life.
- The College maintains several residential interest houses that focus on foreign language learning, raising diversity awareness, and expanding global awareness. They include the Asia House, the Das Deutsche Haus, the Global Awareness House, La Casa Hispana, La Maison Francaise, the MECCA (Multi-Ethnic Center for Cultural Affairs) House, and the Tekisuijuku House. The College also offers gender-inclusive housing arrangements in the residence halls.
- With support from the Mellon Foundation, the College has launched Diversity Innovation Grants to enable faculty to enhance learning experiences for students that will better equip them for life in a rapidly changing multicultural world with particular attention to issues of power, privilege, and difference.
- Faculty leaders are also working with the Provost on an implementation grant application to Mellon focused on diversification of the curriculum.
- The College has submitted a preproposal application to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for their ‘Inclusive Excellence’ grants to support under-represented students in STEM fields.
- The College sponsors a wide assortment of student clubs that appeal to student interests of culture and identity, including religion, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and gender.
- The College continues its commitment to ensuring the effectiveness of its Disability Support Services through professional development of its staff as well as robust assessments of its services and programs.
- The College has sponsored cross-disciplinary ‘deep dive’ research projects by the Whitman Leadership Program, focused on developing strategies to improve diversity among staff and students, including outreach to Walla Walla’s Latino community.
- Whitman has supported the student-initiated and student-run Power and Privilege Symposium, an annual two-day event featuring a keynote speaker and many workshops attended by staff, faculty and students.
- The College offers academic programs, research projects, and initiatives focused on a number of diversity-related fields, including the Global Studies Initiative, Asian Studies, Gender Studies, Race and Ethnic Studies, Religion, Language Learning, State of the State for Washington Latinos, and the U.S.-Mexico Border Program.
- Whitman students, professors and staff continue to engage the nearby Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) in community partnership, research, and other interactions, in part to improve understanding and to build good will. The Whitman Mission and its tragedy of 1847 remains a significant and painful portion of the Northwest’s history.
Looking to the Future
The concluding words of the Whitman Diversity Strategic Plan best capture the spirit of the institution’s commitment to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion…
“This is a living document to be engaged by all constituents. This plan cannot be the creation of a few people in a room, it has to be a collective labor of love that looks forward to the future with hopeful anticipation of what Whitman will become. Brad McMurchie [Chairman of the Board of Trustees] captured the essence of what is at stake here in his remarks to the board in February 2016:
“…Finally think about the fact that by the year 2025 roughly half of all high school graduates will be students of color…we will depend on attracting and retaining these students for our survival. When I look at this complexity and diversity and my gaze goes to the horizon, I think what a great opportunity. What a great chance for the richness of a Whitman education to become even richer…I believe we will need to think about the structures, physical and programmatic that will need to evolve to prepare for this new age…”