Resistance on Campus: The Truth About the Evergreen Protests

Sarah Palatnik

By Jacqueline Littleton 

Dr. Bret Weinstein of the Evergreen State College shared this headline on Twitter: “The Shrieking Mob of Students Confronted the Professor for Opposing Racism.” The mob of students in question were protesting what they see as problems with the culture of The Evergreen State College at large; administrators punitively targeting people of color, recent campus police brutality against people of color — especially black students — and changes to some of the school’s legal codes which would affect students’ right to demonstrate. The word racism has lost all meaning if those students were proponents of racism, protesting Weinstein’s opposition.

Weinstein’s ability to center the narrative of student protest around himself is indicative of his power, and is another example of the historically proven tendency of white men in positions of power to victimize themselves. In recent days he has added the support of infamous atheist Sam Harris, Sean Lennon, Bill O’Reilly’s protege Tucker Carlson, and Ashley Rae (@communism_kills on twitter) to his numbers.

By his own account, Weinstein is a progressive. He opposes what he calls “the regressive left,” which we can assume is exemplified by the student protesters, and he has tweets upon tweets expounding this view. What is not present on his twitter feed is any written support for trans people, for people of color, for the disabled or the working class. When he appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on FOX News on May 26, he spoke only about himself and how recent events had affected him. As he has self described as the most ardent anti-racist around, Weinstein could have taken this interview as an opportunity to debate Carlson on his decision to blame the recent Manchester attacks on the entire religion of Islam or his penchant for labeling all black activists as thugs.

Progressive cred notwithstanding, Weinstein put the Evergreen student body at risk by publicizing the protest in such a dishonest and unflattering way. The faces, names and phone numbers of student organizers were published online on subreddits dedicated to harassing leftists and people of color. A swastika was spray-painted on the side of a seminar building the day after the protest. Students living in Olympia have been routinely harassed by Weinstein’s sympathizers who show up to on and off-campus housing to threaten violence and shout racial slurs at students. These are all directly the fault of Weinstein’s self-martyrdom and his control of a narrative that does not belong to him.

Some clarification is necessary. Weinstein claims the on-campus protests from May 14 to current day are all about him and his contributions to the staff and faculty email. The email he has highlighted is one where he voices opposition to the annual school event, claiming the Day of Absence/Day of Presence is one which oppressively segregated white people. The structure of DoA/DoP has been the same at Evergreen every year since the 1970s, inspired by a play of the same name by Douglas Turner Ward. This 3 day long event has consisted of optional workshops for people of color who share cultural practices with each other, resistance tactics against racism, and workshops for white people to do anti-racist work from a white perspective. Both groups come together in the following days and share what they have learned to build a stronger and more conscious multiracial learning environment for all. In previous years, the workshops for people of color were held off-campus (hence the “absence” in the title), but this year the administrative organizers chose to hold the workshops for white people off-campus instead. The presence day functioned the same. Weinstein stated that because the structure had reversed, and now called for the absence of white participants, it was a “show of force, and an act of oppression in itself.”

I took the liberty of speaking to some white Evergreen students who were enrolled at the time of the 2017 DoA/DoP. One student reminded me that, like always, the Day of Absence was optional and required students to pre-enroll to attend. She did not feel forced or oppressed but made the autonomous decision to participate in the day’s events. Another white student did not enroll because of conflicting commitments, and only participated in the Day of Presence activities. He stated that there was no sense of obligation to attend, nor did he feel forced or oppressed. Many other white students echoed these sentiments including those who did not attend simply because they did not want to. Since these events were for the students, one has to wonder where Weinstein imagined this oppression if it did not happen to any of the white students who he feels were affected.

Weinstein is within his rights as an academic and an American to voice his opinions, no matter how wrong. The fact remains that these were not private emails. He voiced these opinions in a public email forum which all faculty and staff, including student staff, could view and that should signify he was open to the possibility of dissent from the student body. As the livestream videos of the 30 minute protest shows, dissent happened, but the videos also offer proof of Weinstein’s dishonesty. Of all the protests and actions which have taken place on campus over the past two weeks, only around fifty minutes were dedicated to Weinstein and those fifty minutes were not exclusively about his one email. In reality, there was an ongoing email debate between staff, faculty and Weinstein about his tendency to place himself in issues he is uneducated on. At some point, they debated the existence of racism in the sciences, which many of Weinstein’s allies thought was nonexistent. The people of color and allies who read the emails saw this as documentation of Weinstein’s ignorance and inability to understand the needs of students of color. Even more, they saw it as proof of The Evergreen State College’s failure to do proper bias training with faculty and another piece of evidence that Evergreen does not support its diverse student body.

Among this evidence is the track record of the Evergreen residential director who has incompetently handled multiple cases involving issues of sexual and physical assault, racism, and harassment. On May 14, that residential director pulled two black students out of their rooms at 11:30PM in response to a non-black student’s complaint about aggression. They were told that they had been requested at Police Services and were kept there till 1:30AM with little information as to why they were called, while the student who made the complaint was allowed to stay at home. Around the time of the 2016 election decision, there was a student action on campus. Two disabled black trans femmes were the only people targeted for charges, despite the large and diverse amount of people present. It is the combination of these events, along with many others including Weinstein’s emails, that create a culture at Evergreen that many students find unsafe.

The protests, which began on May 14, are the culmination of this, of years of documented and undocumented racist aggressions both from and within the institution of Evergreen. Weinstein centering himself is not only dishonest, but contributes directly to the culture of hostility that students protested. Attached below is the most recent list of student demands, which was the purpose of the demonstration on May 24. Almost none of which refer to Weinstein, and the call for Weinstein to be suspended has since been retracted.

If Weinstein is truly the anti-racist he claims to be, we ask him to take this opportunity to learn from the student body which pays his salary. What he is doing now is antithetical to his purported goal. Weaponizing the publicity he has gained from Trump supporters, FOX News fans and self-ordained “rationalists” against protesters is only making students of color more unsafe. The horde of powerful media figures and their followers that Weinstein has directed at us distracts from the changes we are calling for from our education environment.

In light of these facts, we have come to the conclusion that Weinstein is using the student action of the past two weeks for his own gain. He intends to use the protests to make a point about what he feels is wrong with campus culture and the left. We ask that he find a way to make this point that does not put young black, brown and other marginalized people at risk.

As voices of this student body which often go unheard, we call on Bret Weinstein to take a seat and we call on The Evergreen State College to step up.

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