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Looking Back: Evergreen State College One Year After Spring Chaos

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It has been about a year since the chaotic protests at Evergreen State College that arguably changed the direction of the discourse on free speech in America.

No recent campus protest has caught the media’s attention like the spring 2017 protests at Evergreen State College. The saga, which centered around progressive biology Professor Bret Weinstein, involved student protesters roaming campus with baseball bats, an intentional disarming of campus police, and the university president being held hostage by students.

And what sparked this? Weinstein’s polite disapproval of an activism event that Bari Weiss of the New York Times called “a day of racial segregation.” This is how Weinstein described the “Day of Absence” in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

Day of Absence is a tradition at Evergreen. In previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus—a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning. This year, however, the formula was reversed. “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave the campus for the day’s activities,” the student newspaper reported, adding that the decision was reached after people of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

When former Evergreen biology professor Bret Weinstein objected to it in an email to fellow faculty members, a hoard of students descended upon one of his class sessions and demanded his resignation. After student protest efforts escalated, Weinstein was forced to relocate his class and his family farther away from campus.

Weinstein was further criticized for sharing his experience on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program. After appearing on the program, Weinstein was accused by his colleagues of putting his students in danger.

In a comment to the Evergreen Board of Trustees, Weinstein explained that, for several days, protesters were running the campus. “Do you know that the college descended into literal anarchy? And that for days the campus was not under the control of the state?” Weinstein asked. “It was under the control of protesters. There were assaults, there were batteries, there was pressure to not report crimes to the police.”

“People were, by legal definition, I believe, kidnapped and imprisoned, that included faculty members and administrators,” he charged. “Others were hunted on campus. That lawless bands roamed the campus unimpeded. Police were physically and intentionally blocked from campus by protesters.”

Ultimately, Weinstein and his wife, ex-Evergreen Professor Heather Heying, left the college after settling a lawsuit for $500,000. As a part of the lawsuit, Evergreen refused to admit liability for failing to protect Weinstein against the student mob.

“In making this agreement, the college admits no liability, and rejects the allegations made in the tort claim. The educational activities of Day of Absence/Day of Presence were not discriminatory. The college took reasonable and appropriate steps to engage with protesters during spring quarter, de-escalate conflict, and keep the campus safe,” the agreement read.

Just this week, Evergreen State College announced that enrollment for the 2018-2019 academic year is down 17 percent. Most speculate that the substantial drop is a direct consequence of the administration’s botched handling of the 2017 protests.

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