Protests, racism, and threats at Evergreen State College

Today Representative Matt Manweller introduced legislation to privatize The Evergreen State College and called for the Human Rights Commission to open a formal investigation into Evergreen:

These so-called campus activists want to set us back 50 years to the days of segregation. Threats have been made and it is deeply concerning, especially when the college president said he is ‘grateful’ for the ‘passion and courage’ demonstrated by students responsible for what is happening. We should not be spending taxpayer dollars on a public institution that condones and encourages this type of behavior. The state has plenty of other higher education institutions we can focus our resources on where students are interested in learning and the faculty is committed to actual academics.

Senator Phil Fortunato introduced a companion bill.

“What I see is an institution dedicated to indoctrinating kids into being perpetual victims,” explained Fortunato. “We saw videos of students disrupting classrooms, bullying administration, blocking police, and intimidating those around them and the response from the college president was to thank them for it. It is unbelievable.”

Representative Drew Hansen, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, said “We are not going to end public funding of Evergreen, or any other public university, because of student protests.”

While the bills have a small chance of passing during a second special session where all attention is on the budget, it draws attention to Evergreen’s recent tumultuous weeks, and legislators’ disapproval of how the administration has responded.

Each year, Evergreen has a Day of Absence and a Day of Presence to address current issues of race. The first Day of Absence started in the 1970s, where faculty, staff, and students of color left campus for a day “to explore and celebrate the richness of our diversity by facilitating conversation about issues of difference,” according to Evergreen’s website. A Day of Presence was added in 1992 to reunite the community.

This year, there was a full-day program focused on allyship and anti-racism work hosted off campus for white students, faculty, and staff. An event on campus addressed issues from the perspective of people of color. Participation was optional and students were invited to attend the program of their choice. This was the first year where white students, faculty, and staff were invited to leave campus instead of people of color.

On March 15, Professor Bret Weinstein sent an email to Rashida Love, who coordinates the Day of Absence, to express his disapproval:

When you first described the new structure for Day of Absence / Day of Presence at a past faculty meeting (where no room was left for questions), I thought I must have misunderstood what you said. Later emails seemed to muddy the waters further, while inviting commitments to participate. I now see from the bolded text in this email that I had indeed understood your words correctly.

There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the  recent Women’s Day walkout), and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.

You may take this letter as a formal protest of this year’s structure, and you may assume I will be on campus on the Day of Absence. I would encourage others to put phenotype aside and reject this new formulation, whether they have ‘registered’ for it already or not. On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.

If there was interest in a public presentation and discussion of race through a scientific/evolutionary lens, I would be quite willing to organize such an event (it is material I have taught in my own programs, and guest lectured on at Evergreen and elsewhere). Everyone would be equally welcome and encouraged to attend such a forum, irrespective of ethnicity, belief structure, native language, political leanings, or position at the college. My only requirement would be that people attend with an open mind, and a willingness to act in good faith.

If there is interest in such an event, please let me know.

On May 23, Students showed outside Weinstein’s classroom, called his actions racist and demanded an apology and his resignation. Students felt that Weinstein was dismissing their experiences as minorities and the racism and discrimination they had experienced on campus.

“This is not about you,” one student told Weinstein.

You can check out their interaction here.

Campus police showed up, only to be blocked by protesters. In an interview with Fox News, Weinstein said he did not call campus police. Weinstein also said he was told that he was not safe on campus. Student say campus police called the County Sheriff’s office for backup.

Weinstein went on The Rubin Report to talk about the events in greater detail.

Protesters brought their demands, including that Weinstein be fired, to President George Bridges later that day.

A town hall with students and the administration allowed students to voice their anger about systematic racism on campus.

“I’m tired of white people talking about what black and brown people need. You don’t know” one student said.

Students presented a list of demands to President Bridges on May 24, which he responded to on the Evergreen website with a list of immediate actions and next steps.

President Bridges refused to fire Weinstein, or two other staff members, Officer Timothy O’Dell and Andrea Seabert Olsen, Assistant to the VP for Student Conduct. Students allege that Officer O’Dell used excessive force with students.

President Bridges reminded the community of the current investigation process, which Evergreen will use for any complaint of discrimination.

President Bridges agreed to several of the demands, including:

  • Opening every event with an acknowledgement that the land the college stands on was stolen from Native American tribes
  • Expanded annual training for campus police
  • Mandatory annual sensitivity and cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees
  • A new and expanded equity and multicultural center
  • A full time coordinator of the Trans & Queer Center
  • A new position to faculty to support undocumented students

President Bridges also condemned some of the actions taken by members of the Evergreen community, possibly referencing both protesters’ comments and Weinberg’s recent interviews with several right-leaning media outlets:

We may disagree with each other. However, disagreement is one thing; dehumanization is another. Over the week, a few members of the Evergreen community have used traditional and social media to malign, mock, or misrepresent those with whom they disagree…This behavior is wrong and must stop. It does not represent us, and we will not allow it to define us.

While campus had remained open during the protests, on June 1, county officials received a threat against the campus.

Seattle Times obtained a copy of the call:

I’m on my way to Evergreen University now with a .44 Magnum. I’m going to execute as many people on that campus as I can get ahold of. Do you have that, what’s going on here, you communist scumbag town? I’m going to murder as many people on that campus as I can. Just keep your eyes open, scumbag.

The campus was shut down for two days but students living on campus and select staff were allowed to remain on campus.

Officers from the Washington State Patrol, Thurston County Sheriff’s Office, and Olympia Police Department were stationed on campus and determined there was no active threat on campus. The campus will return to regular operations on Saturday.

However, tensions are likely to remain high, as this is not the only recent race-related incident on Evergreen. Two black students were taken into custody by campus police on May 14 over an alleged confrontation with another student. Past emails from Weinberg disagreeing with a diversity recommendation by the Evergreen Equity Council also angered students.

The Cooper Point Journal has a timeline of the year’s protests, including the recent events.

Kylie Walsh:

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