May and June of 2017 saw attacks on civil discourse at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. Scott Jaschik reported on Insidehighered.com about repeated campus closures due to threats to the faculty, ranging from employment termination to stalking and physical violence. Long known for its liberal mission of tolerance, open debate and inclusion, many are asking if some in the community took the mission a bit afield. Much of the trouble can be traced to professor Bret Weinstein’s refusal to absent himself from campus on the college’s annual Day of Absence, when organizers requested white people stay off campus. Weinstein called this “an act of oppression,” claiming, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.” Although participation in this event is considered voluntary, many believe Weinstein was targeted because he is white and refused to stay off campus. Additionally, Weinstein questioned a proposed hiring policy requiring that new hires be based extensively on whether they further the college’s diversity and equity efforts thereby “subordinat(ing) all other characteristics.” Weinstein was met with such hostility for his views that the campus police suggested he stay away for his own safety. Graffiti calling for his termination, and a written threat to “execute as many people on that campus as I can” led many to fear that the protesters were in control of the campus, and that the president, George Bridges, had not done enough to make the campus safe. While he is sympathetic to both positions, Bridges stated that discrimination of any form (be it racist acts or restricting freedom of expression) is not acceptable: “disagreement is one thing; dehumanization is another.”
Student protesters took to ‘shaming’ Dr. Weinstein on social media, and defending their own behavior while explicitly linking campus activities to other race-based protests across the country. President Bridges admitted that, “a few members of the Evergreen community have used traditional and social media to malign, mock, or misrepresent those who whom they disagree.” Weinstein’s colleagues circulated a letter, which over 50 signed, questioning whether he deserves disciplinary action for having “endangered faculty, staff and students, making them the targets of white supremacist backlash by promulgating misinformation in public emails, on national television, in news outlets and on social media.” Protesters also criticized those who posted sympathetic responses and those who do not find Weinstein’s behavior racist. Notably, The New York Times columnist Frank Bruni compared the proceedings at Evergreen to the Inquisition. In the months that followed, Weinstein and his wife (another Evergreen professor) threatened to sue the school, eventually resigning and settling the lawsuit for half a million dollars. Meanwhile, the college has instituted new student conduct rules, similar to those in place at other colleges, that restrict where, when, and how many people can gather to protest on campus at one time.
Jaschik, Scott. “Who Defines What Is Racist?” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/30/escalating-debate-race-evergreen-state-students-demand-firing-professor
—. “Evergreen Regroups Amid Discord” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/05/evergreen-state-remains-closed-amid-another-threat-and-groups-frame controversy?