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Alumni Essay: Beth Poteet, '01 (peace studies)
After leaving the pine cone curtain, I was a Lutheran volunteer in Chicago with two faith-based Latin America solidarity organizations. I had participated in the Central America Study Tour at Whitworth as a sophomore, and my work in Chicago was a wonderful time of learning how to turn my passion into practical action for a more just and humane U.S. foreign policy. I think back to those two years as a critical time for my development as a budding activist and organizer. I was surrounded by a spiritually centered community of resistance, which continues to inspire me. My educational background and experiences at Whitworth (through travel and internships) gave me the edge over other volunteers who applied for this sought-after position. I had three job titles between the two organizations, and was able to help lead delegations to Latin America, to Washington, D.C., to lobby on Capitol Hill, and to major Latin America solidarity events like the School of the Americas Vigil.
Although I loved my work and community, I longed for the natural beauty of the Northwest. I returned to Spokane and worked for an interfaith organization, starting up a program centered on involving the faith community in advocating for anti-poverty measures at the state and federal levels.
Needing a change, I then moved to Portland and worked part time for a counseling center that provides treatment to perpetrators and survivors of domestic violence. My other part-time job was as the northwest organizer for Witness for Peace. After nine months of concerted efforts in building our funding base, I was able to transition the Witness for Peace work into a full-time position. I just began my third year as staff with the organization. I served on our regional board for nearly two years before I took on this role.
The lines between paid and volunteer work for me have always been fuzzy. Therefore, I would include the time I spend working to close the School of the Americas, or advocating for immigrant rights through the Sanctuary Movement, or promoting fair trade and an end to militarism as part of my life's work, in the largest and best sense of the word "work."
Personal connections and related work experience have made the difference for me when I've applied for jobs. Two of the four positions I've held since graduating happened in large part because I knew the current or former staff. And I knew these people because I'd already been involved in the work, as a volunteer or through another project. Networking is important - even outside of the corporate world!
I haven't received much initial training at any of the jobs I've had. I think that this can sometimes be the culture amongst activist groups, which is something we collectively need to address. Much can be learned on the job, but I do wish I'd taken some basic business classes at Whitworth to have the practical "knowhow" for managing an organization, i.e. financial management, marketing, etc.
A special word for you peace studies majors: There are jobs out there waiting for you! Even when your parents ask you why you didn't go to law school or when you're going to get a "real" job, know that following your heart and dedicating your life to justice and peacemaking IS important! You may not get rich, but that was never the point anyway, right? I feel very fortunate for all of the experiences I've had that have shaped me, and I look forward to the next steps on the journey. And Whitworth was a significant stop along the way.