An annual event known as the Day of Absence/Day of Presence at The Evergreen State College in Olympia has been canceled, college officials say.
“Evergreen is expanding our campus discussions on issues of race and inclusion via many events throughout the academic year,” college spokesman Zach Powers said in a statement provided to The Olympian. “The mischaracterization of Day of Absence last spring has led us to consider different and expanded ways to have these essential conversations, which continue among students, staff and faculty. The title is no longer in use, but the deep commitment to expanding inclusion remains.”
Last year, the event drew sharp criticism from former faculty member Bret Weinstein and many people outside the college.
Typically, about 200 of Evergreen’s 4,800 staff and students have been involved in the event.
In years past, minority students have headed off campus to participate in programs and discussions on that day. Last spring, the idea was reversed and white students who wanted to participate were asked to go off campus to talk about race issues as a show of “solidarity,” according to emails written by Rashida Love, former director of the First People’s Multicultural Advising Services program.
Weinstein claimed the event’s new format was encouraging white people “to go away” and was “an act of oppression in and of itself.”
His criticism — and his decision to share it on conservative media such as FOX News — fed brewing racial tension on the campus, and resulted in several protests and a massacre threat against the college. Several minority staff members and students said they were harassed online and received threats, too.
The threat prompted the college to move its commencement ceremony to Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium.
Since last spring’s protests, numerous Evergreen employees have quit, and the college has paid settlements to Weinstein and several former employees who alleged that administrators did not keep them safe during the campus turmoil.
The protests made national headlines, and last fall the college’s enrollment was down about 212 students. In September, college officials predicted that the enrollment drop would continue into the 2018-19 school year.
So far, applications for fall quarter are down about 20 percent, Powers said.
“That doesn’t mean enrollment will follow,” he said. “Our students often enroll at the last moment.”