Friday, June 23, 2017

A Campus Argument Goes Viral. Now the College Is Under Siege - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Location of Evergreen College image from

By ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS, JUNE 16, 2017, New York Times [original article contains links and images of twitter remarks]; [JB note: Given the "racial" nature of the Evergreen controversy, I can't help but note the "color-coded" name of this institution of non-graded learning ...] 

Image from article, with caption: Attendees passed through metal detectors for Evergreen State's commencement on Friday, which was held at a baseball stadium 30 miles from campus.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — It started with a suggestion that white students and professors
leave campus for a day, a twist on a tradition of black students voluntarily doing the

A professor objected, and his argument with a loud and profane group of
protesters outside his classroom soon rocketed across the internet.

On Friday, more than three weeks later, Evergreen State College had to hold its
commencement 30 miles from campus, at a rented baseball stadium where everyone
had to pass through metal detectors.

In between, Evergreen, a small public college in Olympia along the Puget
Sound, found itself on the front line of the national discontent over race, speech and
political disagreement, [JB emphasis] becoming a magnet for extremes on the left and the right.

After the dispute gained national exposure — amplified by the professor’s
appearance on Fox News, his op­ed in The Wall Street Journal, and right­-leaning
websites’ heaping derision on their newest college target — the professor, Bret
Weinstein, said he had to stay away from campus for his own safety and move his
family into hiding.

Student protesters briefly occupied the president’s office to press their
complaints of racism on campus. In one encounter, the president, George Bridges [JB -- see],
was recorded meekly complying with a demand not to use hand gestures when he
spoke because they were threatening.

The campus has received threats of violence via social media and calls to the
county sheriff and 911 that forced administrators to lock down the campus for three
weekdays in a row. The college had another lockdown on Thursday, as dozens of
professed free­-speech defenders tangled with anarchists who were waiting for them
at Red Square, the campus plaza named for its red­-brick walkways.

“I thought I’d be speaking from Red Square where graduation is traditionally
held, and then as the alt­right backlash hit us, I wondered if we’d have graduation at
all,” Anne Fischel, a documentary filmmaker and Evergreen professor, said in her
commencement speech on Friday. “No one should see this graduation as a return to
normalcy, to the way things were before. For one thing, the lives of some of our
community members have been threatened, and they can’t be here today.”

Since the presidential election in November, colleges from Middlebury to
Auburn to the University of California, Berkeley have become swept up in a running
battle over free speech and politics.

But the conflict at Evergreen has been deeply distressing to many students and
faculty members who see their college as a little utopia that has produced such
creative alumni as Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” and Macklemore,
the hip­hop artist.

Students at Evergreen, founded in the progressive fervor of the 1960s, have no
majors or grades and study in small groups, taking interdisciplinary classes where a
marine biologist, for instance, might team up with a philosophy professor and a
music professor.

“There is a tradition of trying to work things out,” said Ruth Hayes, a professor
of animation. Referring to Professor Weinstein, she echoed the feelings of a number
of her colleagues: “That he took this public I just feel like is a breach of trust.”

What also sets the Evergreen turmoil apart is that it began not with a
controversy­-courting guest speaker like Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos, but a
Bernie Sanders-­backing biology professor who has been a fixture at the college for 15

The conflict stems from the college’s Day of Absence, a tradition in which black
people leave the campus to show what the place would be like without them. This
year, organizers suggested the reverse: that white people who wanted to participate
would leave while nonwhites stayed, and both groups would attend workshops to, as
the email announcement put it, “explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion
and privilege.”

In an email to his colleagues, Professor Weinstein, who is white, said that when
black people decided to leave, it made sense as “a forceful call to consciousness.” But
to ask white people to leave, he wrote, “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in
and of itself.”

“I would encourage others to put phenotype [JB definition] aside and reject this new
formulation,” he wrote.

What followed can be viewed by anyone with a smartphone: a protest outside
his classroom in which students derided his “racist” opinions and called him
“useless,” preceded by an expletive; his appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News
show; and scenes of students and professors arguing with other professors and their
college president.

“Yes, they were rude,” the president, Mr. Bridges, said in an interview about the
meeting in which he put down his hands. “What mattered was de-­escalating the

And though students occupied his office for a couple of hours one afternoon, he
said he never felt threatened.

“I was hired to be a change agent,” he said. His mission, he said, was to ask,
“How do we address the equity gaps here?”

Professor Weinstein, who declined to be interviewed, has been lying low. But he
is quite visible online, with a growing Twitter audience and a new blog offering his
subscribers insights into “evolution, civilization and intolerance” for a nominal
monthly fee.

On the other side, Naima Lowe, a media professor who has opposed him, and
Rashida Love, the director of Evergreen’s First Peoples Multicultural Advising
Services, who sent the email announcing the format of the Day of Absence, have also
made themselves scarce, after being mercilessly ridiculed online.

There is a bigger context to the dispute, faculty members say. Overall
enrollment at Evergreen has been declining since 2009, while minority enrollment,
which now stands around 29 percent, is rising.

Some faculty members have said the college has not been adequately serving
minority students, and an “equity council” developed a plan to address those issues.
Professor Weinstein was among those who objected to parts of the plan. He saw its call
for an “equity justification/explanation” for each potential hire as code for racial

Ms. Lowe, who is black, said that he was misinterpreting the proposal and that
its goal was to hire people with the right skills and experience to relate to
“marginalized communities,” regardless of their race. As for the Day of Absence,
held in April, organizers have said that it was voluntary and that no one implied that
all white people should leave.

Image from article, with caption: State police officers restored order on Thursday
after protesters clashed on campus

But the time for academic word­parsing has passed; the final days of the term
were marked by riot police officers, barricades and metal detectors.

Strange alliances have formed. On Thursday, a group calling itself Patriot
Prayer, a right­-leaning band of 60 or 70 people from off campus waving American
flags and one showing Pepe the Frog, a symbol of the alt­right movement, was joined
for a while by two students.

One of them, Tamara Lindner, said she had been a student of Mr. Weinstein’s
wife, also a biology professor at Evergreen, and wanted to support his right to free

The other, Colin Trobough, said he was distressed at the way Evergreen had
been portrayed. “I love Evergreen,” he told the Patriots gathered in the traffic circle.

The group marched onto campus, where about 200 people awaited them:
anarchists and “anti­fascists” looking like graphic-­novel ninjas, with black scarves
hiding their faces and hoods covering their hair, flanked by aging professors in
rumpled rain slickers.

The Patriots’ leader, Joey Gibson, strolled into the crowd of ninjas, where he
was sprayed with Silly String, hit in the head with a can of it and then attacked with
what may have been pepper spray before state police officers in riot gear restored

The college spent $100,000 to rent the minor-­league stadium in Tacoma for the
commencement on Friday. “I’m very glad we’re all here together,Mr. Bridges said
in his address, acknowledging the “fierce and disturbing” events of recent weeks.

Ellis Paguirigan, a 1991 Evergreen graduate whose daughter, Melia, was
graduating and planned to go into ocean conservation, said they were both
disappointed in Professor Weinstein’s stance.

Melia had Professor Weinstein in her freshman year and liked his class, Mr.
Paguirigan said. But, he added, “my daughter is a person of color — she kind of takes
it personal.”

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