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Harvard Junior Nicholas Whittaker Wins Truman Scholarship

Multicultural Center Town Hall Meeting
Nicholas P. Whittaker '19, pictured at an Undergraduate Council meeting, is a recipient of the Truman Scholarship.

Philosophy concentrator Nicholas P. Whittaker ’19 was one of 59 college students from across the country to be selected for the Truman Scholarship, a selective graduate scholarship awarded for outstanding commitment to public service.

The Scholarship provides each winner up to $30,000 to support their graduate studies, along with career and leadership training and priority admission at some top-tier graduate universities.

Whittaker and the other Truman Scholars were chosen from a pool of 756 candidates, all of whom were endorsed by the university they attend, according to an announcement Thursday.

Throughout his time at Harvard, Whittaker has served on the Undergraduate Council and has focused his efforts on supporting underrepresented minorities on campus. As a UC representative for Adams House, Whittaker said that he has worked to include minority voices in UC decisions by co-founding the minority caucus system.

“Essentially, representatives from these marginalized communities can get together and form an official structure that has multiple soft and hard powers,” Whittaker said. “They are also supposed to be the communicative body between the UC and marginalized communities.”

Whittaker is also involved in the Harvard Black Community and Student Theater organization, also known as Black C.A.S.T., and writes opinion articles for The Crimson. He said both activities are tied to his advocacy for underrepresented groups.

“It’s very refreshing to write all these things about blackness, do all this bureaucratic work about the multicultural center and the caucus system, and then it’s really refreshing to then go to a black arts space that’s doing black protest art, and be involved in that community,” he added.

In terms of his academic interests, Whittaker is exploring “the philosophy of race and gender and the way that intersects with the radical political commitments and also the 3,000, 4,000 year old tradition of philosophy, which is dominated by white, cis, straight men.”

“It’s been really cool to work within that academic tradition particularly at this institution, which is like a white male institution, and to see how there’s little nuggets or spaces where I can sneak my way in and then broaden them, and make this tradition into this powerfully radical, and really cool and useful tool of liberation for marginalized communities,” he added.

Whittaker said he plans to pursue graduate and postdoctoral studies in philosophy, with the goal of becoming a professor in the field. He said although many people think that philosophy does not welcome marginalized groups, he believes that minorities can find their own niche.

“The thing that keeps me going is knowing that philosophy and education and academia doesn’t have to be elitist. It doesn’t have to be inaccessible,” Whittaker said. “All of our modern liberation movements came from philosophy, like feminism, the project of class equality, anti-racism and anti-white supremacy movements, the queer liberation movement.”

—Staff writer Sanjana Narayanan can be reached at sanjana.narayanan@thecrimson.com.

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