Nothing is really more popular than something else. Everybody at Whitman finds their nitch where they fall in love with some activity, club, or group....but then those kids that found their nitch will participate in other activities and groups just because they are interested or enjoy that other thing (or multiple things). It's not like Greek life is more popular than participating in the Theater program. In fact, members of the theater department are actually PART OF the Greek system! Same with Student government. The people that are part of Student government are also on the swim team, or the baseball team and other varsity athletics. From my stand point, I don't think there is one activity or group that is more popular to be part of than another. I feel like each group and organization is viewed equally by every student, and their membership overlaps regularly. There is a great culture at Whitman though. In all the dorms, people leave their doors open. So as you walk down the hall way coming back from the bathroom, it might take 15 or 20 minutes to get back to your room because you are stopping and saying hi to everybody in their rooms as you walk by. I really really enjoyed that last year, I got really close with some people just cause everybody's doors were open all the time. In terms of fun things to do for student activities...I really enjoy doing Fridays at Five...its when all the jazz groups perform in the coffee house on friday at five. It's a great way to unwind after the week is over and listen to great music while hanging out with some of your friends. There are also some awesome traditions at Whitman (some of which are secret!! I promise they aren't bad!! they are just secret and part of the fun is that they are secret!) But the ones that aren't secret I'll tell you about! For freshman students there is a thing called "storming the field". All the RA's of each dorm that houses freshmen put on the storming the field tradition the first night of orientation. Basically that is when all the freshman go outside and do a lap (or two) around their dorm's respective field and then the rest of the night is filled with tons of fun field games, root beer floats, snacks...and also leads into one of our secret traditions! so much fun, I wont ever forget storming the field. Other traditions include "riding sticks". We've got a sculpture on campus that looks like a horse made out of driftwood, and students regularly will ride sticks just for fun. But during the winter, right before finals it is a tradition for everybody to line up and ride sticks to some ridiculous music playing the background. It's great fun. Another great tradition is the Paul Allen Reading Room Challenge. We have a quiet room in our library. And the challenge basically is, is if you are the last person in the quiet room (usually in the AM) you get to sign a book on top of the fire place mantel and explain why you were up so late studying and what professor's fault it was...it's great to look back on all the pages and see all the ridiculous things written in there. We have fraternities and sororities on campus, and I am part of a fraternity. However, the greek system is by no means the center of attention or the "elite" group of people on campus. Being part of a greek house is just like being part of a club, or a sports team or another student group. It is just one part of something you do in college, but not the only thing. There isn't any negative stigma about the greek system, it is a very open group of people and people who are not affiliated are always over at the greek houses hanging out with their friends who live there. There is no culture clash between affiliated members and unaffiliated members...which may sound weird, but thats the culture that has developed at Whitman. Which is great! cause I can't imagine not having some of the friends that I have now just because they chose not to join the greek system.
As I said before, there's a big drinking culture that revolves around the Frat houses behind Jewett. Frats and sororities, well they are definitely there if you want them. I didn't, still don't, and can avoid their sickening preoccupation with gender roles most of the time, but still, I can't say that Greek Life doesn't seep over sometimes where it's not wanted. Greekend, for example, is very annoying and rife with 40 year old alumnists trying to relive their golden years. Let's see... The drama cult is known for all its batty traditions and initiations. There are plenty of juicy stories about Whitman's past, which you will learn gradually over time. Let's see, there is a lot of streaking, intramural sports playing, bike riding, Ankeny field sun basking, speakers, events, concerts(both by outside bands and by Whitman students). I am a member of quarterlife, one of the literary magazines on campus, and I've loved it so far. Blue Moon is the one that's well known and comes out once a year, while quarterlife is a smaller(literally- it's the size of a quarter page) publication that comes out quarterly. I can't say much about Blue Moon, but quarterlife is very open for innovation, input, and involvement. It was very much a collaborative team effort and I was able to get very involved from the start and contribute ideas on how to make it even better. I also had a radio show with KWCW. Do it! The application is easy to fill out and the it's fairly easy to get a show if you have a good idea for a concept. If you don't know how to work the equipment that's fine, they'll show you how.
Major activities on campus include intramural sports, Debate, Greek life, and theater. Our Debate team is one of the best in the country, as is our cycling team. We don't have a football team (that alone tells you we are nerds...) Our Greek life is very different from that of other schools, in that their main focus isn't on drinking but on community service and group activities. Some members in Greek life don't drink at all, though in general they do drink more than the average student. There are hundreds of clubs on campus and you can make your own at any time. The amount of activities on and off campus can be overwhelming sometimes, and most of them don't include drinking. You can see a play or go to a sports game or see a speaker or go to a club meeting or to an event in the interest house community or to any number of events created by the student activities club like music concerts (classical or a band) or movies. You can also find parties or friends to drink with if you want, and you can go wine tasting (Walla Walla has wineries everywhere!). It can be very difficult to balance time between working, events, clubs, class, and school work. Consequently, the dating scene is pretty dead and students either have sex pretty liberally or not at all, but the few who do date are in very serious relationships.
There is ALWAYS something to do on campus, be it a sporting event or the next big party. There is such a wide range of things to do, that I haven't even had the chance to try them all out yet! Most people at Whitman, I would say, are very friendly and sociable. Whitman seems to be, overall, a group of people that love people. Doors in residence halls are often left open, and you can always find someone to talk to, even in the middle of the night. I would say Whitman is a work hard play hard environment for most people, but that doesn't mean everyone parties hard after a big test. While there are lots of students who enjoy a big night out, there are also a lot of people who don't party or drink at all. You'll find your niche at Whitman, and realize that however much you want to go out is completely fine. Greek life is pretty prominent on campus, but it's much different than at a big university. The fraternities and sororities don't cut themselves off from other people...it's just like an extra group that someone chooses to be a part of, but not their whole identity. While there are some students who still buy in to the stereotypical sorority and fraternity attitudes and think they are a problem at Whitman, overall there is a pretty good relationship between greek life and the rest of campus.
There are many different clubs on campus to choose from. I've had a show at KWCW, the school's radio station, for the past 2 years and it's been really fun! Clubs at Whitman seem to actually get things done, too, versus just sit around and talk. Youth Development Initiative sends students to Sierra Leone, Black Student Union hosts great hip hop parties, etc. Whitman offers movies open to all students, shown at Kimball Theater Saturday and Monday nights.. I've seen some really great films through this tradition. Whitman also brings some of the coolest speakers, and it would be sad if students didn't take advantage of them! Last year I saw Salman Rushdie speak. This year I saw a Holocaust survivor, Terry Tempest Williams, and Marjane Satrapi (author of Persepolis) talk. These are some of the greatest speeches I've seen. The Walla Walla Symphony (really excellent for a small-town symphony, and they bring in some great guest performers) also performs on campus at Cordiner Hall, and students can get free tickets in the music building. If you want a good party, frat houses are recommended (and there are usually off-campus parties to choose from). If that's not really your scene, then no problem--I've spent tons of great Friday nights just chilling with my friends, talking.
Popular groups on campus include: the outdoor program (OP) which sponsors trips and operates the ever-popular climbing wall and open kayak swimming/water polo, ASWC (Associated Students of Whitman College) and WEB (Whitman Events Board) which puts on events and brings awesome speakers and performers to campus, Greek life (only 30% of the student population, but still an overall positive part of campus) which throw a ton of all-campus parties and events and maintain a strong connection with the campus and the community, and sports (varsity, club, and intramural) which most students participate in at some level. Groups I'm involved with are Greek life, the Prison Research Group, Hillel-Shalom (the Jewish group), and various intramural sports (my favorite is flag football). Some highlights of campus activities are going to the wheatfields at sunrise/sunset, climbing at the climbing center, playing pick-up soccer, going to speakers and music performances (past ones include Ralph Nader, Sherman Alexi, Ben Folds, The New Pornographers, Tallest Man on Earth, Frank from PostSecret), our three amazing acapella groups, going to sport games on the weekends, and getting coffee/dinner downtown.
There is no one centrally popular student activity that dominates the social life. Whitman students choose from many (and at times too many) activities. I have never once been bored while at Whitman. The first year experience is especially focused on getting to know a lot of people and the first year residence halls really foster this sense of community. Greek life provides a social outlet for 30% of students, but isn't exclusive in any way. There are always plenty of social options whether or not you want to drink. Parties are usually creatively themed (and all the residence halls have costume closets). There are Friday night coffeehouse performances, ice cream socials, live music, intermural games, and game nights. Intermural football is probably the most popular sport and a lot of students get pretty into it. I wish the sports teams got more support and that games were a bigger deal. Other than that, I love the Whitman social life.
One of the best ways to meet people and make friends is simply by living on-campus during the first two (or more) years here. I met a lot of my best friends freshman year while they were living down the hall. Many students (especially in first year halls) keep the doors to their rooms open whenever they’re not at class or in bed. ASWC (Associated Students of Whitman College, our student government) brings a lot of really cool speakers (Salman Rushdie, Marjane Satrapi, Helen Thomas) and bands (Guster, Ben Lee, Flogging Molly, Blue Scholars) every year, as well as coordinating a lot of activities, like the “drive-in” movie, where students watch a movie on a big inflatable screen on the lawn, or Casino night. A lot of off-campus houses will host parties, a lot of times with dress-up themes or student bands, and they are generally pretty fun. There are always a number of fun things to do on the weekend, whether you drink or not.
Whitman students love to get involved. IM sports are a major part of campus life, as are theater productions, guest lecturers, concerts, community service projects, and a variety of interest groups. Although Whitties work hard during the week, they have lots of fun on the weekends. Some students drink, some don't...this doesn't make much of a difference. As someone who didn't drink until I was of age, I can honestly say that not drinking at parties didn't make them any less fun. There are always non-party options as well and one is hard pressed to do everything they want to in a given evening. Whitties make friends all over the place: in their freshmen sections, in class, on IM sports teams, in the Greek system, and just hanging out. We tend to have large social networks, and because Whitman is fairly small (1,450 students) it isn't long before everyone knows (or at least recognizes) everyone.
Residence Halls are super laid back, not a lot of students lock their doors, some don't even shut them during the day. There is also something to do almost every night of the week, its harder to choose which event you want to attend rather than find something to do. This includes (but is definitely not limited to) various speakers, films put on by the school (outdoor and indoor), concerts by students in the music department, plays by the theater department (8-9 large scale productions a year and a number of smaller ones at lunch or on random evenings), bands/poets/comedians/illusionists/etc. The nice thing about being in a small town is that activities on campus are all free to students, so you won't be spending a ton of extra money on entertainment like you would in a big city!