Nearly six weeks after highly publicized racial tensions at The Evergreen State College in Olympia drew a threat of a mass-killing from across the country and outside protests, people had a chance to share their concerns with the college’s Board of Trustees.
“Campus events, Spring 2017” was the sole topic on Wednesday morning’s agenda for The Evergreen State College’s Board of Trustees.
Ten people spoke during the meeting’s public comment period.
The college’s main campus was the scene of student unrest, protest and threats this spring sparked by allegations of racism. The activities put the liberal arts college in the national spotlight and at the center of debates over racism, academia and freedom of speech.
“We are hearing this issue raised all over the country, not just at Evergreen,” faculty member Anne Fischel said at the meeting.
She told the board she believes students protested out of frustration with their experiences in classes and institutional barriers to equity.
“Students take actions like this when systems of power and decision-making are inaccessible to them,” she said. “They do it out of need, out of pain and out of anger.”
In addition, Fischel said it’s not the first time Evergreen students have taken matters into their own hands and “operated outside of normal channels.”
“I hope you will focus on the message, rather than the way it was delivered, because the message is urgent and responding to it will make us a better college,” she said.
Testimony also was given to the board by three students, three other faculty members, two alumni and a staff member.
Student Van Lynn Ramses said she hopes the conversations and work about equity and student retention will continue. She said she hopes students will remain a part of that work.
“Everyone’s goal is to have an equitable campus,” she said. “I heard that one of the victories we won was for teachers to have diversity training — sensitivity training — which is not a loss by anybody’s standards.”
Ramses encouraged the board to listen to students’ demands instead of “giving into the hype that paints students in a dangerous light.”
Some students, including herself, were harassed, stalked, and doxed after the protests, she said. Doxing is posting private information about somebody online out of maliciousness.
Meanwhile, two other students and faculty member Bret Weinstein criticized the way college officials handled the protests and disruptions on the campus in May.
“This behavior has actually been encouraged and because of this, I feel like people are becoming more violent and the campus is becoming more of an unsafe place,” said student McKenzie Kyger. “I have been to several meetings to speak. I’ve been told several times that I’m not allowed to speak because I’m white. This school seems to focus so much on race that it’s actually becoming more racist in a different sort of way.”
Weinstein posed a series of questions to the trustees, including asking if they knew the college was under the control of protesters, not the state, for several days.
“If you did fully understand what happened, you would be forced to act in the interest of Evergreen,” he said.
Weinstein said some faculty members and administrators were, by legal definition, kidnapped and imprisoned by the protesters during the disruptions. He said people were pressured to not report crimes they witnessed on campus.
Without offering comments of their own, the Board of Trustees closed the meeting after the public comments and moved to a different area for an executive session. The closed door meeting was not listed on their agenda, but the board is permitted to call for one under certain certain circumstances following regular meetings, said college spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser.
College president George Bridges told The Olympian that he and the assistant Attorney General were meeting with the board to discuss legal issues related to the campus disruptions, and the performance of an unspecified number of college employees.
The board was not scheduled to take action after the session, Kaiser said.
On Monday, Bridges gave The Olympian’s editorial board a preview of the 60-day work plan he’s devised to address campus safety and help the college move forward. He said it was part of the information he planned to share this week with the Board of Trustees.
The plan includes adding more money to police services, updating the code of conduct, and continuing to investigate complaints filed after the disruptions.
Some students and possibly some college employees could face discipline for breaking the college’s code of conduct, he said.