Evergreen State College closed for several days at the beginning of June as protests over racial issues turned violent.
Reports emerged of students wielding “sticks and bats” and causing $10,000 of property damage. A threat to “execute as many people on that campus as I can get ahold of” was called into emergency operators.
The school has since reopened, but has faced harsh criticism in light of the incident. A state lawmaker introduced a bill to pull funding from the Washington state-based public college.
Evergreen’s president, George S. Bridges, penned an op-ed in The Seattle Times on Wednesday reflecting on the protests and looking to find a way forward.
“Over recent weeks, Evergreen’s normally quiet, wooded 1,000-acre campus in Olympia has been rocked by loud protests, sit-ins and abusive speech,” Bridges wrote. He continued:
“Evergreen has always been a place that takes on difficult issues in sometimes raucous fashion. The activism this year was different, though. As campus groups debated racism and free speech, there was a level of fear, emotion and invective we’ve never seen here.”
Evergreen’s June protest began after biology professor Bret Weinstein objected to a planned “Day of Absence.” The school had an annual tradition where students of color could opt to leave campus for the day to discuss issues about race. This year, students proposed a change and asked white people to leave campus. Weinstein objected to the plan, and wrote an email stating, “on a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.”
Angry protests erupted, and students called for Weinstein’s resignation.
President Bridges noted the Evergreen community must take responsibility to protect speech. “To preserve freedom from discrimination and of expression for all at Evergreen, we must have greater accountability and consequences for those who would deny those rights to others,” he wrote in The Times. “I am talking with Evergreen faculty and students, alumni, legislators and others about how we can strengthen and clarify the rules for conduct.”
He also pointed to social media and the news for exacerbating tensions. “Although activism on campus was only part of the story, it was distorted, amplified and endlessly repeated via social media and cable news,” he wrote. “As we took steps to de-escalate conflict on campus, Twitter feeds blew up with misinformation.”