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"We All Need A Voice"

Remembering Whitten Maher


 
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Throughout his 2007-2010 tenure as a Breeze contributing writer, columnist, Opinion Editor, and Design Editor, Whitten Maher exposed the partisan rhetoric that drives wedges between us and advocated for anyone who feels marginalized.

The Whitten Maher Memorial Scholarship for Writing and Design honors Maher's enduring belief in "the engagement of two people and a frank, heartfelt discussion." The written, digital, and design projects created each of the scholarship's ten recipients over the past six years reflect this belief.

Spencer Law (2019 winner) on his "A Journey Inward" video essay: "[I]t was important to me that students in my class had an example of a transgender person they know in real life, instead of a stereotypical television character or celebrity. Whitten Maher was one of the first people at JMU to start the conversation about the LGBTQ students here, and this project is part of my effort to keep that conversation going."

Renessa Rabenda (2019 winner) on her "Women and Their Worth: Equality on Campus" JMU Libraries exhibit: "I sought to create a space of reflection where viewers can engage in interpersonal dialogue with JMU students, faculty, and staff through more than a century of James Madison history. In a larger sense, I hope the exhibit encourages viewers of all identities to recognize how far we have come and to keep striving for a better, more equitable world."

Speaking for More than Himself

Whitten Maher sought out and worked to humanize our most divisive issues. In 2009, as Congress debated President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Maher surveyed the "apocalyptic neuroses" of pundits and politicians who envisioned "government as a soulless, heartless machine of death":

We seem to have on our hands all the rage and rhetoric of revolution without any of the responsibility. Shrill cries, stormy skies on the horizon—this is our country now.

In the face of this emerging ideological echo chamber, Maher wrote to encourage an inclusive "we" of engaged citizens able to sustain differing opinions. He also used his platform to speak for and to individuals struggling to live their true identities. In "For You, Wherever You Are," he directly addressed the LGBTQ+ community:

I’m writing because I wish I could have read something like this in my college newspaper before I came out…. This column isn’t for me because what I went through was not unique, and more people have experienced it than you will ever know.

Even though Maher sometimes "felt like no one was listening," his interest and compassion inspired those he encountered at James Madison and beyond. As one friend remembered:

He was always so understanding of where someone else was coming from, and "walking in their shoes" He was only with us for a short time, but I do believe his impact was monumental.

The Whitten Maher Memorial Scholarship

Whitten Maher encouraged building bridges, giving voice to the marginalized and oppressed, and creating dialogue rather than divisiveness. The scholarship founded in Maher's memory encourages and recognizes  writing and design that conveys the compassion, intensity, and reasoning reflected in his work. 

The Whitten Maher Memorial Scholarship for Writing and Design is open to all returning JMU undergraduates in all academic disciplines, and each recipient is awarded at least $1,000.

To date, students working in more than 40 different JMU disciplines have submitted their academic and nonacademic written, digital, and design projects for consideration. 

For submission information, see the Whitten Maher Memorial Scholarship website (bit.ly/JMU-Whitten-Maher). Featured there is a selection of Whitten Maher’s Breeze columns in their original print format, along with remembrances from his JMU and Demos colleagues. For a more extended journey through Whitten Maher’s work, type "Whitten Maher" into The Breeze site’s search bar.

 

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2020

Last Updated: Friday, January 17, 2020

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