Student activists seek niche in IFC

by Andrew Hookom

A small group of students has developed a proposal for a new Interest House based on fostering activism on campus.

The house would provide institutional support for students with plans to develop initiatives involving Whitman and/or the larger community.

“We’re just starting the process,” said Thomas Miller, who assembled the three-person team working on the idea. “My goal is to have a guarantee by the end of the year that there will be an activist house by next year or the year after.”

The new interest house would either replace one of the current interest houses, or else could be made from a house Whitman already owns, such as the Hotel California.

Miller got the idea for the house while studying activism and social change in South Africa last fall, where he bared witness to 40 percent unemployment and startling rates of HIV/AIDS.

“Students get demobilized while they’re at Whitman,” said Miller. “They have the potential to be interested in politics on campus and in the community, but when it comes to doing something concrete, they don’t really feel like they can do that many things.”

Miller also emphasized the need for continuity, which he hopes the house could provide: “There are people who come through here and they start something and then they graduate [leaving their project unfinished].”

The house itself would serve as a liaison to the community, providing contacts and resource information to students and providing a place for faculty, community members or other students to come for help with projects they are working on. In this way, house projects would hopefully get carried over from year to year, but applicants to live in the house would be required to submit plans for their own initiatives also.

The house could also use interest house programming funds to host speakers who will help students develop conceptual frameworks that allow them to, as Miller said, “translate their passions into action in the real world.”

Miller plans to meet with Nancy Travelli, the associate dean of students in charge of campus life, to discuss the plans next week.

Said Miller, “I’m hopeful for the project because Whitman is generally very supportive of student initiatives, and this is a good way for Whitman to engage in the community, which is something we’re leaning towards.”

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