Student activists that use aggressive intimidation tactics to combat perceived oppression at The Evergreen State College are applauded and appeased by their school’s administration. A vague ‘social justice’ is at the root of their rampage.
College campuses have historically been the principal arenas in which young people can band together and work toward the achievement of a common, often valiant cause. For example: equal treatment of females at UGA in 1968, free speech for student organizations at Berkeley in 1958, and the end of South African apartheid at Columbia University in 1985. Last May, however, a student mob seized control of operations at a Washington State liberal arts college campus, issuing demands to faculty in the name of social justice. The incident represents the coddled and callous mindset often adopted by activist students on progressive campuses nationwide.
The Evergreen State College is a public liberal arts and sciences college located in the picturesque capital city of the state of Washington, Olympia. The college has an enrollment of about 4,000 students and boasts notable alumni such as Simpsons creator Matt Groening, rapper Macklemore, and actress/musician Carrie Brownstein. Each year the college holds their annual “Day of Absence”, a tradition that has occurred since the 1970’s in which students of color voluntarily stay home from class and white students and faculty remain to attend diversity seminars and anti-bias workshops. However, the script was flipped this year when the student newspaper reported that white students and faculty would be invited to leave campus instead of students of color. The reasoning behind this change in tradition was that a number of minority students had felt unwelcome on the university’s campus following the result of 2016 presidential election.
Evergreen biology professor Brett Weinstein, who is white and a self-described progressive, objected to this change in protocol. In an email to the college’s Director of Multicultural Advising Services, Weinstein explained his reasoning, stating that there was a “…huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles…, and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”
Weinstein’s decision not to partake in the amended tradition resulted in outrage amongst students, many of whom accused Weinstein of racism. On May 23, upon Weinstein’s email being made public, a group of about 50 students proceeded to confront the biology professor outside his office to chastise his decision to remain on campus and demand his immediate resignation. Students hurled redundant chants and obscenities at Weinstein, who was backed against his door whilst attempting to dialogue with the mob, to simply explain his reasoning.
Following the confrontation outside Weinstein’s office, the student protestors began to agitate tensions between themselves and the faculty even further. Weinstein had planned on staying true to his commitment to teach his class on “Day of Absence” until he received a call from the Evergreen State College Chief of Police, advising him to remain off campus for safety reasons. The call likely had something to do with threats of violence against faculty and bat-wielding students causing property damage. The school was forced to close for several days as a result of these threats. Cellphone videos emerged showing professors and faculty members facing hordes of enraged students echoing chants such as “Hey Hey! Ho Ho! These teachers have got to go”. The protesters even marched to Evergreen State President George S. Bridge’s office, which they vowed to occupy until their list of demands was met. Among these demands included the immediate firing of Weinstein and several other faculty members, the disarmament of the campus police, and amendments to the Student Code of Conduct (The full list of the protester’s demands can be read here).
In an urgently convened address to the student body, Bridges expressed his gratitude for the student’s fervor. The president of the college told the protesters that their demands were going to be recognized and that the faculty was committed to creating a learning environment free of discrimination and intimidation.
Yes, free from discrimination and intimidation. Here we have another example of the regressive Left’s hypocrisy and the dangers of the subjective, tribal nature of aimless and often paradoxical social justice warring. The irony of Bridge’s statement to the protesters is that his and the university’s, response to the nearly week-long ordeal did not do anything to rid the campus of discrimination and intimidation, but rather only exacerbated it. The students who participated in this amoral and unlawful behavior were applauded and their actions justified, and this false vindication only promotes more extreme behavior on their part. The protests escalated from a single professor’s objection to a tradition that he believed had been reshaped to foster discrimination and the lack of support he received from his own colleagues is an additionally egregious injustice in itself. Brett Weinstein stood by the principle that it is unjust to force absence upon a particular group of people, and for that he should be commended.
The appeasement of the protesters’ insidious behavior drew criticism from all across the nation. Brett Weinstein appeared on several news outlets and podcasts to describe how nothing was done to assure his safety as he was effectively purged from his own campus. Washington State lawmakers even proposed legislation that would strip the Evergreen State College of its millions of dollars in public funding. It is certainly arguable that an institution that cannot protect the First Amendment rights or the safety of its faculty is not deserving of public tax dollars let alone praise in any form.
The antics witnessed at The Evergreen State College are indicative of the increasingly hostile and disruptive actions being taken by student activists in the name of social justice. It started with shutting down lectures and has now escalated to borderline thuggery. These students are part of a growing sect of individuals who justify taking extreme measures simply because they perceive anything that challenges their worldview as oppression. They forgo peaceful assembly and respectful discourse, methods conferred on them by the Constitution and used by their aforementioned forebears, and instead use intimidation and numbers to achieve their ends.
What these students fail to realize now, but most likely will in the years following their graduation, is that the vast amount of video documentation of the incidents that occurred on their campus last May—published on YouTube—will likely compromise the academic and career credentials that they are working to obtain. Employers will be able to see how these students dealt with a conflict situation on their campus, and accordingly make the decision not to hire them.
The swift and largely negative response to the debacle from around the country reassures sensible Americans that this kind of behavior, in general, is rightly viewed as petulant and dangerous. In this tumultuous political climate, the events that occurred at The Evergreen State College should serve as a cautionary tale to all those seeking campus reform; using oppression, intimidation, and disruption to combat social injustice—real or perceived—will only serve to de-legitimize the effort. Principles must be found and kept, even in the fight for vague social justice.
—Connor Foarde is a new contributor to The Arch Conservative. He is a junior studying journalism as well as a radio host for WUOG News’ State Politics show.