It is official–the students of Whitman College have spoken, and they have chosen to be known forevermore as the “Whitman Whales.”
The University’s newest residential college is now the only one with its own mascot. Though Whitman College Council Arts Chair Jackson Dobies ’14 first introduced the idea of a mascot specifically for use in intramural sports, the vote between mascot choices evolved into more than a decision over what graphic to put on a jersey.
Rather, the election between the Whales, Wolves, and Knights engendered spirited debate about college pride and community – and drew a stunning 405 participants, a majority of the students affiliated with Whitman.
Puns played a prominent role in the debate. The “Whitman wail” is a communal cry of despair that occurs at midnight before every Dean’s Date, and members of the college refer to themselves as “Whitmanites,” adding humor to the idea of “Whitman Knights.” Alliteration was another consideration, with Knights the clear loser in that contest.
Dobies, who designed the three choices, aimed to make the mascot a unifying force for the college. He said, “It’s hard for people to get excited about their residential college, so this is about having just one more thing to get people excited about Whitman and proud to be the Wolves or the Whales or the Knights.”
Dobies, the other members of the College Council, and Whitman’s Director of Student Life Devon Wessman-Smerdon could not have predicted the enthusiastic debate that ensued. The intracollege email chain exploded with impassioned arguments for and against each of the mascot choices, and posters appeared across the college supporting various candidates.
Kevin Donahue ’12, a longtime member of the Whitman College Council and a residential college advisor (RCA), was the most visible Whales supporter and the instigator of the email frenzy. Regarding mascots overall, he said, “It’s better to have one that we kind of have in jest—a suit of armor would be kind of funny, but whales are just better.” He envisioned the uniqueness and inherent humorousness of a large foam whale costume.
However, Adam Mastroianni ’14 vehemently (and jokingly) disagreed, making the deadpan assertion that Donahue was “trying to destroy Whitman and everything it stands for.” In defense of the Knights, he said that “Jackson Dobies … has given Whitman three well-designed choices to lead us into battle. Only one, however, captures the true might, fury, and glory that is Whitman College.” The Knights, while still humorous enough for Mastroianni, are “regal, classic, and classy, just like Whitman.”
To non-Whitmanites, the mascot furor in the southwest part of campus was yet another symbol of Whitman’s supposed exclusivity, typified by the Whitman-only College Night dinners, the only exclusive meal in any residential dining hall. However, many Whitmanites believe they can take pride in their college without displaying any sort of superiority complex. In fact, Wessman-Smerdon said the mascot “truly speaks to the student-driven identity of the residential colleges.” In her email to all students in the college, she thanked everyone for their excitement, calling the vote “a huge step in making us all the more scrumtrulesent than the other colleges.”
Editor’s note: Blogger and loyal Whitmanite Sarah X. Chen ’13 voted for the Knights because she “couldn’t resist the pun.”
Sarah Xiyi Chen ’13 is a Woodrow Wilson School major from Arcadia, Calif.