All week I have been talking about an excellent article written on the Huffington Post by Michael Zimmerman entitled, “The Evergreen State College Implosion: Are There Lessons To Be Learned?” On Monday, we talked about the value of being willing to listen. On Wednesday, we discussed the value of speaking out. Today, we need to take a step back and evaluate the culture that was created at this college campus. After all, these types of ridiculous events did not happen everywhere. They happen in specific places where it is possible that they can happen.
Most of us have heard about the protests that took place on this campus as a result of the controversy around what was called a Day of Absence. Traditionally, this had been a protest where students of color did not show up to the college on a particular day. This was supposed to symbolize how much the college would be lacking if these students were not there and therefore encourage appreciation of students of color. There was recently a similar protest regarding a day without women here in the United States. This type of protest is really nothing new. In the past, students decided that they wanted to protest, and they found in nonviolent means to do it. I see nothing wrong with that.
This year however at Evergreen State College, the theme was going to be different according to what was reported at Inside Higher Ed.
“But this year, organizers said that on the Day of Absence, they wanted white people to stay off campus.”
Obviously, this is much different. It is one thing to make a decision to leave campus on your own as a form of your own individual protest. It is another to tell someone else they cannot show up at all. Certainly, if white individuals wanted to support this and not come to campus, they had every right to do that, and I’m sure that many did stay away as a show of solidarity. However, the vital point to remember is that these individuals would again be making the choice to stay away. Telling people they cannot be on campus is a sign of segregation, and that is an evil that we have only far too recently tried to fight against in the United States of America.
Weinstein himself was specifically advised by campus police to remain off of campus when the protests ultimately came to be because he had become a rather controversial figure on campus based on his questioning of the Day of Absence. They said that they could not guarantee his safety.
On the same day however, Weinstein’s wife Heather Heying, who was also a faculty member at the college, did not feel that her husband was being treated equitably according to Zimmerman’s report.
“After Professor Weinstein was warned by Evergreen’s police chief to stay away from campus because his safety couldn’t be guaranteed, and after administrators were held hostage in their offices by a student group, the interim provost wrote a note saying that if anyone felt unsafe, they should come and speak with him or one of the deans. Professor Heying thought this note was both insensitive and disingenuous since obviously her husband was unsafe in the eyes of the police chief and he was advised against setting foot on campus. The faculty member responded to this note by posting this on Facebook: ‘Oh lord, Could some white women at Evergreen come and collect Heather Heying’s racist ***.’”
The same faculty member who posted this on Facebook was the one referred to on Monday who first brought charges of racism against Weinstein.
Clearly, there is some type of disconnect here, and it is one that Heying rightfully points out. It was inconsistent that her husband could not be guaranteed safety, but the official documents from the administration guaranteed safety for all individuals.
Soon after the events that took place, the Board of Trustees put out a statement according to the Washington Post. Part of it is particularly interesting.
“Intellectual inquiry, freedom of expression, tolerance and inclusiveness are core tenets of Evergreen’s philosophy and approach to education. Anyone who prevents Evergreen from delivering a positive and productive learning environment for all students has, and will continue to be held accountable for their actions and face appropriate consequences.”
Again, we see the inconsistency. The trustees talk about tolerance and inclusiveness, but this all started because one individual professor wanted to make suggestions to a diversity proposal in a way that he thought would make things better on his campus. Maybe he was right and maybe he was wrong, but no one ever heard about his proposals because he was silenced. His freedom of expression was denied by those who wanted to force a particular agenda.
The trustees went on to say more however.
“Evergreen is not alone in colleges currently experiencing conflict, but because of our long-standing commitment to open and respectful debate it is imperative that the campus dialogue reflects these values.”
If they were committed to open and respectful debate, they would have allowed these ideas to be talked about in the first place and spoken up to support a faculty member who was being forcibly silenced.
I don’t work on a college campus, and most of you probably don’t either. However, let’s hope that we can be better than this wherever we are. We don’t have to settle for this type of doublespeak that pretends to be about tolerance and inclusivity but is really a cover for physical violence.
I think that the better option for you and for me is to address the real problems that we have.
- We can listen to each other as I suggested on Monday.
- Then, we are actually prepared to talk about things that are wrong as I pointed out on Wednesday.
- Once those two things are in place, we’re having dialogues, and we have the type of climate that the Board of Trustees at Evergreen State College apparently aspires to but utterly failed at creating.
Maybe working together, you and I will not fail in this endeavor. Maybe we will have the type of culture where these types of ridiculous debacles do not happen.