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‘A home away from home’: Whitworth students move into dorms

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 31, 2019

Whitworth University freshman Kaitlin Ray, of Seattle gets a little help from her dad Todd Ray during move in day at the college in Spokane on Saturday, Aug.31, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Whitworth University freshman Kaitlin Ray, of Seattle gets a little help from her dad Todd Ray during move in day at the college in Spokane on Saturday, Aug.31, 2019. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

The Whitworth University campus teemed with students, parents and traffic-control volunteers Saturday as hundreds of new freshmen moved into their dorm rooms.

The class of 2023 has nearly 700 students from a wide variety of backgrounds and locations, with the college welcoming its largest number of international students in its history. Many of the international students hail from Nigeria, India, Ghana and Mongolia.

Thirty seven percent of the freshman class are first-generation college students and 39% are part of a racial or ethnic minority. The overwhelming majority of the freshmen – more than 450 of them – are from Washington state. Four dozen of those haven’t gone very far – they graduated from high schools in the Mead School District.

A steady stream of cars pulled up in front of the dorms on campus Saturday. Parents, students and volunteers unloaded everything from suitcases to mini fridges to bedding. There were also quite a few bicycles unstrapped from the back of SUVs. One student even brought a loveseat.

Freshman David Oh and his mother, Crystal, flew in from their Los Angeles home earlier this week and spent Saturday lugging around bags and unpacking. Oh said he became enamored with Washington state after visiting Seattle.

“Originally I wanted to go to the University of Washington,” he said. “I really liked Seattle.”

He also considered Gonzaga University and said Whitworth was his “safety school” in case he didn’t get into the other schools he wanted. But then Whitworth offered him a full academic scholarship, making the choice clear.

“They made it pretty convincing,” he said.

As of Saturday morning he hadn’t met his roommate, who is from Mongolia, in person. “I texted him and he’s really a cool guy,” Oh said.

Crystal Oh said she wanted her son to go to a private college after his older sister had a bad experience at a public university in California. She said her daughter isn’t happy there and can’t get into the classes she needs because of overcrowding.

They were both impressed by the personal touches at Whitworth, including the phone call to set up his class schedule. “This feels like a good college to me,” David Oh said.

Now that her second and last child is leaving home, Crystal Oh is facing an empty nest. “He said, ‘Mom, don’t call me every day. If you don’t hear from me it’s good news,’” she said.

She said she’s now considering what she’ll do next. “I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years,” she said. “I don’t know what to do. I have to find a hobby.”

Her son is only too happy to give her advice on how to fill her newly found free time. “I told her to join a book club, go to yoga,” he said.

Freshman Kaitlin Ray and her family made the drive to Whitworth from Seattle. She and her father, Todd Ray, hung decorations while her mother, Dawn Andrews, dusted shelves. Ray said she doesn’t remember how she heard about Whitworth, but a campus visit sealed the deal.

“The minute I stepped on campus I was like ‘I have to go here,’” she said. “It was so beautiful, a home away from home. Everyone here is so nice.”

The school’s religious foundation also appealed to her. Ray plays the flute and said a big music scholarship made attending the private school possible. “It’s close enough to home,” she said. “It was either here or Montana State. It gets too cold there.”

Ray said she talked frequently with her roommate over the summer. “We talk every day online,” she said. “She’s really cool.”

The two took the time to color-coordinate their decorations and bedding, deciding on a pink and gray color scheme.

Andrews said Whitworth seems like it will be a good fit for her daughter. “I think it’s amazing,” she said. “I feel like she’s going to fit in here and meet great people. I feel like it will enhance her life.”

Ray is her oldest child and the first to go off to college. Andrews admitted she’s had conflicting emotions. “I feel good today,” she said. “The day we left home was pretty emotional.”

The same scene unfolded in numerous dorm rooms on campus, parents helping their student unpack and decorate their room before leaving campus to allow their child’s first year away from home to unfold before them.

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