Transforming Community Culture through Generational Storytelling

February 18, 2022

Whittier College Black Student Union 1971By Destiny Randle '23

Rising oral historians Jai Battle '23, Jayson Smith '23, and Danni Salinas '22 are capturing and revealing the untold stories of Black alumni at Whittier College.

A Black Oral History project, Our Story, authentically amplifies the voices of Black alumni as they share their experiences as students. This transformative endeavor is the result of the Racial Justice and Equity Action Plan, an initiative that aims to transform community culture and create new opportunities for Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni on campus. 

“This project will also expand into an investigation of the Quaker heritage of Whittier College by analyzing archival records so that we have a fuller understanding of the institutional history of Whittier as it pertains to race,'' said Professor Kay Sanders, associate dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Student research team English and global studies double major Battle, sociology major Smith, and recent history graduate Salinas gathered to discover and share the lives of alumni and their relationship to the institution. 

“In the increasingly racialized moment we find ourselves, I believe it is critical to amplify black voices and to do it in a way that is raw and real (like an oral history),” shared Battle. 

Smith agreed, "Just being able to hear that they went through some stuff that someone around my age went through as well can be comforting and make us feel less lonely.” This project’s importance and purpose can positively affect those on campus today. 

Salinas pointed out that “the history of Whittier College’s relationship with Black alumni is complex like life itself. There will be stories of struggle, of prejudice, of injustice – but there will also be stories of beauty, of triumph, and of simply existing. The common denominator of all these stories is the fact that Black alumni are the ones telling them. Black alumni are controlling their own narratives, and are choosing to share them with the rest of the Whittier College community. These are the series of messages I want people to take from this project."

Currently, this project provides the oral histories of six Black alumni including Black Student Union member Fred Lakey '73,  ASWC’s first black president William E. Kelley '60,  and Basketball record holder Hugh Butler '78. In the spring of 2022, their stories will be available to view on Poet Commons.

Key contributors include former faculty lead Professor Laura McEnaney, Professor Sanders, Our Story’s new director Professor Shannon Shanton, the Black Alumni Association, and the Office of Alumni Relations.