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Whitworth students hold diversity rally, poster campaign

A group of determined students used screwdrivers and metal stakes to jab holes in the frozen lawn at Whitworth University on Friday, an effort to resurrect a row of signs featuring stories, photos and quotes from the college’s minority students.

Since Tuesday, the 88 laminated, letter-size signs have lined the Hello Walk on Whitworth’s campus, part of an awareness campaign about the challenges faced by minority students at the predominantly white and Christian private university.

That message didn’t sit well with everyone, and organizers have been replacing damaged and torn-down signs since the first day of the campaign.

“First we thought it was the weather that knocked them over,” said Jade Feletoi, president of Whitworth’s Students for Education Reform club, which put up the posters. “But then we saw people knock them over and pull them up. That’s just not right.”

Between five and eight signs were damaged each day.

Feletoi staged a rally in support of the poster campaign, and about 75 students, staff and faculty were there to show their support.

“We just want to come out here and stand by the posters,” Feletoi said.

She said that on the social media network YikYak, which is widely used by students, the campaign was called “white bashing.” Some people on the anonymous messaging app encouraged using derogatory names for black students.

“How much does that hurt?” Feletoi asked the crowd at the rally. “When we say diversity matters, we are telling the truth.”

Some students shared their personal minority experience with the crowd.

A young gay student said he wished he had a gay Christian role model on campus.

A young woman said she came to the college as an undocumented immigrant, but that doesn’t give people a right to tell her to go home.

One poster challenged Whitworth’s history curriculum as being too focused on Western history. Another poster complained of the lack of groups and services for students who are religious but not Christian.

There are nearly 2,300 undergraduate students at Whitworth, and university administrators said the class of 2018 is the most diverse in the university’s history, with 19 percent of students being from minority groups. Among tenured faculty, about 9 percent are minority.

Lauren Noonan, 19, said she knows many of the students who are part of the poster campaign.

“These are courageous people,” Noonan said. “When a group says something is going on we should be available to listen. That’s why I’m here.”

Ashton Skinner, 21, a transgendered student, said Whitworth has become more inclusive.

“I’m an invisible minority. Because I’m white, people can’t always tell what I’m struggling with,” Skinner said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. That’s why I’m here.”

The minority awareness campaign was spurred by recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and students plan their own “hands up – don’t shoot” protest at 6 p.m. Monday.

Lawrence Burnley, Whitworth’s assistant vice president for diversity and intercultural relations, told the students he was proud of them for sharing their stories.

“Everyone matters,” Burnley said. “You have an administration and faculty who stand by you.”

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