WALLA WALLA — From 225 to 250 Whitman College students and faculty crammed themselves onto the third floor of Whitman’s Memorial Building Thursday to protest against racism and cyberbullying.
The protests were sparked by comments on Facebook and the anonymous website WhitmanEncounters.com after a student posted on Facebook asking people to be respectful of other cultures on Halloween.
The inflammatory posts have since been deleted, but organizers said they used racial slurs and had comments like “Is it okay if i don’t like black people? I hope there are more people, I know I’m not the only one.”
The rally began outside, but a driving rain forced the students indoors, where they were met by Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland, whose staff estimated anywhere between 225 and 250 people were present.
Cleveland addressed the crowd and eventually invited some of the protest leaders into a meeting with the visiting Board of Overseers, Whitman’s governing body.
“From my point of view I was very proud of them,” Cleveland said. “I thought they did a great job.
“They wanted to make sure the College knew what was going on.”
Cleveland said he thinks the College should make a strong statement agains the website, Whitman Encounters, strengthen the school’s intercultural center, and that the school should have a campus-wide discussion or seminar about racism, although he acknowledged that would take time to organize.
“We have to learn to discuss (race) in a meaningful, civil way, and to hide behind an anonymous message board is just unacceptable,” Cleveland said. “We want to ensure there’s an atmosphere and climate that allows students to pursue their educations.”
According to the rally organizers, students wrote letters to Whitman administrators asking for a mandatory workshop on race and a statement from the administration condemning racial bullying.