A Campus Argument Goes Viral. Now the College Is Under Siege.

Anemona Hartocollis, New York Times, June 16, 2017

It started with a suggestion that white students and professors leave campus for a day, a twist on a tradition of black students voluntarily doing the same.

A professor objected, and his argument with a loud and profane group of protesters outside his classroom soon rocketed across the internet.

On Friday, more than three weeks later, Evergreen State College had to hold its commencement 30 miles from campus, at a rented baseball stadium where everyone had to pass through metal detectors.


After the dispute gained national exposure — amplified by the professor’s appearance on Fox News, his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, and right-leaning websites’ heaping derision on their newest college target — the professor, Bret Weinstein, said he had to stay away from campus for his own safety and move his family into hiding.

Student protesters briefly occupied the president’s office to press their complaints of racism on campus. In one encounter, the president, George Bridges, was recorded meekly complying with a demand not to use hand gestures when he spoke because they were threatening.


What also sets the Evergreen turmoil apart is that it began not with a controversy-courting guest speaker like Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos, but a Bernie Sanders-backing biology professor who has been a fixture at the college for 15 years.

The conflict stems from the college’s Day of Absence, a tradition in which black people leave the campus to show what the place would be like without them. This year, organizers suggested the reverse: that white people who wanted to participate would leave while nonwhites stayed, and both groups would attend workshops to, as the email announcement put it, “explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion and privilege.”

In an email to his colleagues, Professor Weinstein, who is white, said that when black people decided to leave, it made sense as “a forceful call to consciousness.” But to ask white people to leave, he wrote, “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”


What followed can be viewed by anyone with a smartphone: a protest outside his classroom in which students derided his “racist” opinions and called him “useless,” preceded by an expletive; his appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show; and scenes of students and professors arguing with other professors and their college president.


Professor Weinstein, who declined to be interviewed, has been lying low. But he is quite visible online, with a growing Twitter audience and a new blog offering his subscribers insights into “evolution, civilization and intolerance” for a nominal monthly fee.


There is a bigger context to the dispute, faculty members say. Overall enrollment at Evergreen has been declining since 2009, while minority enrollment, which now stands around 29 percent, is rising.

Some faculty members have said the college has not been adequately serving minority students, and an “equity council” developed a plan to address those issues.


But the time for academic word-parsing has passed; the final days of the term were marked by riot police officers, barricades and metal detectors.


On Thursday, a group calling itself Patriot Prayer, a right-leaning band of 60 or 70 people from off campus waving American flags and one showing Pepe the Frog, a symbol of the alt-right movement.


The group marched onto campus, where about 200 people awaited them: anarchists and “anti-fascists” looking like graphic-novel ninjas, with black scarves hiding their faces and hoods covering their hair, flanked by aging professors in rumpled rain slickers.

The Patriots’ leader, Joey Gibson, strolled into the crowd of ninjas, where he was sprayed with Silly String, hit in the head with a can of it and then attacked with what may have been pepper spray before state police officers in riot gear restored order.

The college spent $100,000 to rent the minor-league stadium in Tacoma for the commencement on Friday. “I’m very glad we’re all here together,” Mr. Bridges said in his address, acknowledging the “fierce and disturbing” events of recent weeks.


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