Education

Fear at Evergreen causes some faculty to hold classes off campus

Staff and faculty at The Evergreen State College were out welcoming students to campus Wednesday morning with coffee and conversation, in this photo tweeted by the college. Meanwhile, some faculty were holding classes and meeting with students off campus due to safety concerns.
Staff and faculty at The Evergreen State College were out welcoming students to campus Wednesday morning with coffee and conversation, in this photo tweeted by the college. Meanwhile, some faculty were holding classes and meeting with students off campus due to safety concerns. The Evergreen State College

Several faculty members at The Evergreen State College in Olympia plan to wrap up the last two weeks of the school year teaching classes and meeting with students off campus, because of safety concerns.

“Yesterday, we were at the park,” Evergreen faculty member Sarah Eltantawi told members of The Olympian editorial board on Wednesday.

Some students have refused to return to the campus, which has been coping with racial tension and outside threats in recent weeks. In response, several faculty members are using coffee shops, churches — even a community theater — as emergency classrooms and offices, Eltantawi said.

There are faculty and staff members who are worried about their safety too.

“Our colleagues of color are now getting death threats on a regular basis,” faculty member Elizabeth Williamson told the editorial board. “...We are in a geographical region where there’s a lot of white supremacy. There are groups that are eager for this kind of controversy to activate things they want to do.”

The campus was evacuated and shutdown last Thursday because of a phone call in which the caller threaten a mass killing on campus. It stayed closed on Friday, reopened for weekend classes, but was closed Monday because of another threat that has been unspecified by college officials.

A photo posted by college officials on Twitter Wednesday morning showed about 15 people in or around Red Square, with the message “Staff and faculty out welcoming students to campus this morning with coffee and conversation.”

College president George Bridges said faculty, staff and students are trying to get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But how many are taking that work off campus?

“I don’t know how widespread it is,” Bridges told members of The Olympian editorial board by telephone. “I think there’s a nervousness on campus due to a couple of threats we’ve had.”

Over the weekend, Evergreen’s nearly 1,000-acre campus was targeted with vandalism, graffiti and property damage.

Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza said his department sent about five deputies to the campus on Sunday night to assist campus police. The Washington State Patrol is now on the campus full-time and assisting campus police, college officials say.

Snaza said county deputies made contact with a group of students who were carrying bats and sticks on campus over the weekend. Deputies couldn’t tie the group to broken windows on campus, and no arrests were made, Snaza said. He estimates that about $10,000 in damage was done on the campus.

Williamson said there were only a couple of students who “chose to act out.”

“They’re feeling so scared and they don’t know how else to act,” she said.

Once faculty members intervened, the students stopped carrying bats and sticks around campus, Williamson said.

Snaza said he disagrees with the way Bridges has handled the racial tension and unrest on campus. He said students have been allowed to curse, act disrespectful, make demands and hold faculty members against their will. He compared the students’ actions to a hostage negotiation.

“They weren’t free to go,” Snaza said about faculty members who were yelled at by student protesters in some videos that have been posted on the Internet. “It irritated me because why is that OK? … I get where people want to be heard. We don’t always get what we want — especially when we treat people like crap.”

Snaza said he believes Evergreen Police Services could have handled the situation better if Bridges would have given them the power to do so.

“If you don’t have the support and trust of the administration or the president or the vice president, then it makes your job very difficult,” Snaza said. “And now you’re working in a reactive mode versus a proactive mode.”

Bridges said he’s looking into the protesters’ complaints about some past actions by members of the college’s Police Services.

“It’s a very understaffed group,” he said. “…And we have a brand new chief of police who hasn’t worked on a college campus before.”

Some faculty members have asked Bridges to investigate the actions of faculty member Bret Weinstein, saying he helped escalate racial tension on campus by taking his view to FOX News, The Joe Rogan Experience and elsewhere.

“We are very concerned that Bret’s media blitz and his naming of individuals has directly put people in danger,” Williamson said.

Bridges said no disciplinary action is planned against Weinstein, who has held his classes off-campus, too, citing safety concerns.

“I can’t go into too much detail on that for privacy reasons,” Bridges said.

But he added that he’s “trying to strike a balance” between what faculty members can say and their First Amendment rights.

Bridges said he’s also looking into the actions of some of the student protesters.

On May 26, Bridges said he wasn’t planning sanctions against the student protesters. At that time, college officials described the students’ actions as peaceful.

However, Bridges said that statement included the clause: unless more complaints came in about the students.

“Certainly, we’ve had complaints,” Bridges said.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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