By: Andreas Rauch, SSW and Evan Ismail, SSW
“There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles … and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”
These were the words written by Professor Bret Weinstein in an email that triggered a group of students into anger, mob mentality and a dangerous spiral into hostility and intolerance. The situation at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington is a clear example that the politically correct culture strangling college campuses today has gone too far, and that, in this case, it has been hijacked by vandalism and intolerance in direct contradiction to the rioters’ stated purpose. For a group that claims to encourage tolerance and respect to act in a way that cancels out each and every value they allegedly stand for is shameful and destroys any credibility they may have once had.
Evergreen is a liberal arts college where every year there is a “Day of Absence,” when staff, faculty and students of color can voluntarily refrain from appearing on campus. Organized since the 1970s, this demonstration is meant to facilitate conversations about ethnicity on campus. However, this March, organizers announced a twist on the tradition, sending out an email asking white faculty, staff and students to attend a full-day program on allyship off campus while students of color would attend a concurrent program on campus, effectively transforming the May 23rd event into a white “Day of Absence.”
Weinstein, a white biology professor at Evergreen and a self-described progressive liberal who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 elections, objected to this action as discriminatory, ineffective and divisive, even notifying organizers that his email was a “formal protest against this year’s structure,” referring to the fact that whites were asked to leave.
Consequently, the campus environment erupted into chaos as organizers accused Weinstein of racism, called for his firing and pressured the Evergreen State College President George Bridges into ordering the campus police to stand down, even as events spiraled out of control. As a result of this, Weinstein was forced to hold his class in a public park off campus on May 22 because the campus could not guarantee his security. Further, Bridges was intimidated by and beholden to protesters, some of whom stormed his office, took over university spaces and instituted “escorts” who, at one point, even accompanied Bridges to the bathroom, presumably to continue their pressure on this embattled individual. Additionally, the university’s June 16 graduation was held 30 miles from campus with around $100,000 in added security costs, including metal detectors at the entrance for all attendees and graduates.
This insanity persisted, as students-turned-radical social justice warriors took to campus parking lots and went car-to-car hunting for allegedly racist staff and faculty, resulting in a brief closure of the campus. This inhibited thousands of students from earning the education they deserve, because of threats of violence and backlash. Due to the scale of the disruptions and the apparent lack of organization and proper response demonstrated by the school (such as making the campus police stand down), the state representative for the area, Matt Manweller (R-13th District), wrote a bill proposing to cut the already struggling school off of state funding. Though, written as a “figurative shot across the bow,” per Manweller, his bill is not likely to pass.
Still, this type of chaos is, quite frankly, hypocritical and counterproductive for a movement that seeks equality, tolerance and respect. Even though this event may have been framed as voluntary in the beginning, the reaction by the rioters shows that white people at Evergreen were in fact choiceless. Such discrimination would be considered unacceptable in any other situation, or if perpetrated by any other ethnic group. Defenders and sympathizers of this regressive leftism will argue that, since the dissenting students are of color and speak without the structural power and privilege afforded to the white staff, faculty and students, they cannot be racist. Moving the goalposts regarding the definition of racism is not a valid justification for acting in a discriminatory manner; this is simply a cop-out.
Second, the amount of respect devoid from these rioters is astonishing. Just because someone refuses to participate in the Day of Absence does not make them a racist and most certainly does not grant anyone a license to devolve into anarchical behavior and disrupt students who do not have a stake in the outcome of chaos and simply want to get their education. The protesters’ disdain for the well-being of others further highlights the hypocrisy of these students who claim to stand for tolerance yet berated Weinstein for refusing to comply with the Day of Absence.
The epithets that the protesters flung at Weinstein included baseless accusations of racism. Allegations of racism and bigotry are very serious and should be regarded as such; however, to heedlessly throw around these tags defangs the meaning of these words. The deluded and unsupported nature of these accusations undermines the protesters’ credibility and hampers any social progress they may potentially have accomplished had they used more measured methods.
The economic consequences of this disorder are expected to make a huge impact on the institution. Currently, Evergreen is 300 students short of the state’s funded enrollment target and, because of these events, enrollment numbers may continue to drop, as they have been since 2011. The radicals at Evergreen have no one to blame but themselves if they destroy one of the most liberal, progressive institutions in the country because of their misguided notions of racism. Students will not want to attend a school where vigilantism is tolerated.
Given the current decidedly leftist environment commonplace at universities across the country, these occurrences offer a scary insight into what could plausibly occur at UCR. Imagine staff and faculty herded in their offices, unable to freely use the bathroom, perform their jobs or enjoy reasonable expectations of privacy, just as had been done to administrators at Evergreen. Imagine UCPD with their hands tied, unable to ensure the safety of students on campus. Imagine lectures, discussions and campus events disrupted by a loud but small group without regard for the opinion of others.
This is hardly a scenario most students would want, and so it falls on us to say enough is enough. College is a place to expand one’s mind, challenge one’s conceptions of the world and foster personal growth while learning necessary skills for one’s field. Racism, intolerance and silencing of dissent have no place on college campuses, and we should use Evergreen State as a lesson on protecting our values of respect, tolerance and progress from those seeking to destroy them.