The Evergreen State College (TESC), a liberal arts school of just over 4,400 students, has continued to attract national attention in recent months due to protests by students in reaction to alleged racism by a professor — events that led to a three-day shutdown of the campus over safety concerns.
The series of recent events that have shaken the small campus in Olympia, Wash., began in March, when TESC sent an email requesting that white students and staff electing to participate in the school’s Day of Absence, held on April 12, remain off campus for the day, whereas faculty and students of color would remain on campus. The event, which has taken place for nearly 40 years, has traditionally allowed faculty and students of color to convene off campus to discuss issues of race; this year, TESC reversed it, allowing individuals of color to remain on campus and white community members to either remain on campus or take a “day of absence.”
In protest of the request, TESC professor Bret Weinstein, who is white, replied with an email stating that he would not participate in what he considered “a show of force and an act of oppression in and of itself.” With tensions on campus already strained following other recent incidents and what students have claimed is TESC’s unwillingness to address racism, students interrupted Weinstein’s class on May 23 to demand his resignation; police eventually disrupted the protest.
The following day, hundreds of students barricaded themselves in the TESC library and the office of president George Bridges, prompting concerns for the safety of faculty and administrators. Videos of the raucous protest went viral, and the event made national headlines, garnering much criticism from conservative news sources and politicians. Weinstein was told to avoid the area for his own safety, after which he began holding classes off campus.
On Thursday, June 1, the campus abruptly shut down after an anonymous caller told 911 that he was planning a mass shooting at TESC. The campus remained closed on Friday and over the weekend, when vandals with sticks and baseball bats allegedly caused $10,000 in damage. Classes were also cancelled on Monday, but resumed as of Tuesday. School officials announced that, due to safety concerns, TESC’s upcoming commencement ceremony would be moved to the nearby Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
Now, some at TESC are calling on the administration to punish Weinstein because his email — and subsequent media appearances — have made every member of the campus community “targets of white supremacist backlash,” according to a letter signed by more than 50 faculty members. Thus far, Weinstein is still employed with the college.
TESC’s administration has expressed its commitment to renewing diversity and inclusion efforts while denouncing what it says was inexcusable behavior on the part of a small percentage of the campus community during the recent protests.