Education

Evergreen president presents plan to address student safety in wake of unrest

Furniture was moved to barricade doors in anticipation of interaction with law enforcement during the May 24 protest at The Evergreen State College. Protesters said they were speaking out against institutional racism at the Olympia school.
Furniture was moved to barricade doors in anticipation of interaction with law enforcement during the May 24 protest at The Evergreen State College. Protesters said they were speaking out against institutional racism at the Olympia school. Staff writer

The Evergreen State College in Olympia is no stranger to student protests.

But some students went too far when they interrupted faculty member Bret Weinstein’s class, and a day later pushed furniture against doorways during a takeover of the library building in May, Evergreen president George Bridges told The Olympian’s editorial board this week.

“Blocking doors — that’s a criminal act in the state of Washington, to prevent people from entering or exiting, you can’t do that in a public building,” he said.

Bridges is scheduled to present the college’s plan for moving forward and ensuring student safety during a special meeting with the college’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday.

Evergreen was the scene of student unrest, protests and threats this spring, sparked by allegations of racism at the campus. The activities put the college in the national spotlight and at the center of debates over racism, academia and freedom of speech.

But it also forced the college to be evacuated and closed for two separate threats, contract with the Washington State Patrol for additional security and move its graduation to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

Bridges said the college’s plan includes:

▪ Protesting 101: Bridges said he doesn’t believe students knew they were breaking the law or the college’s code of conduct during their demonstrations.

“We are sending this week a letter to every student at Evergreen articulating and outlining the conduct code, the violations that have been committed, and the fact that some of them involved criminal actions,” Bridges said. “…They need to be informed because most of the students had no clue.”

▪ More money for police: Bridges said he has asked Stacy Brown, chief of Police Services, to conduct a needs assessment by Aug. 1.

Brown is looking at training, staffing, resources, and what she believes she needs to meet the needs of the college, Evergreen spokeswoman Sandra Kaiser said.

Bridges said he plans to have a response to the needs assessment by Aug. 15.

“What I’ve learned over the last many weeks is the college hasn’t invested adequately in law enforcement,” he said. “Our police services unit has been underfunded for a number of years, and we’re going to need to change that.”

▪ Code of conduct updates: Bridges said the code hasn’t been updated in about 12 years, and it’s missing information on student demonstrations and other critical issues.

One of the areas he would like to address is the discipline process for students who break the code. Bridges described Evergreen’s process as “painfully slow.”

“Discipline has to be quick and certain,” he said.

▪ More investigating: Bridges said the college has begun the disciplinary process for some students who violated the conduct code. The actions of six students and an untold number of faculty members are being reviewed.

The students being disciplined “have been issued summons, and they are being adjudicated,” he said.

There were some cases in which non-students were involved in the disruptions, and they were issued criminal trespass orders, Bridges said. One of the trespassers returned to campus during a later event and was arrested, he said.

“There’s a lot in play, and we are processing those as we can, and we will sanction those where we have evidence of responsibility,” Bridges said.

The college has a responsibility to investigate all complaints, and officials also want to hold faculty and staff accountable, Bridges said.

▪ Damage control: Bridges said they’ve seen a “slight decline” in enrollment since the campus incidents erupted in May, but not at the levels of other colleges in the country that have experienced student unrest in recent years.

“No one has told me they’re not coming back because of that,” Bridges said. “We don’t know how to draw a comparison.”

Still, Bridges said college officials will be contacting would-be students. On Monday, staff and volunteers began calling about 1,200 students who were admitted and haven’t enrolled in classes yet.

“We’re also calling those current students who were here in the spring, didn’t graduate and didn’t register for fall classes,” Bridges said.

▪ A full review: Bridges said he wants to get an external review conducted of the college’s actions, policies and procedures this fall. He expects that would be completed by November.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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