Evergreen State College: A Day of Absence or the Absence of Reason?

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In unsurprising news, a dispute about racism on campus has arisen in yet another college: The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Rampant hostility regarding the political state of the nation has caused tension throughout the campus since November. This is nothing new for our country, specifically when it comes to college campuses. Tension at Evergreen came to a head when Rashida Love, the campus’ Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services, wrote an email to the faculty and staff of the college. The email related to the Day of Absence, an annual event at the college where many students of color voluntarily leave campus to meet and discuss racial issues. Ms. Love suggested that this year, white students and faculty should leave the campus for a reversal of the Day of Absence in order to “[reaffirm] the value of having POC in higher education and specifically at Evergreen.” Regardless of whether the intentions behind the idea were good, I do not see a world where this proposal could have gone over well.

Bret Weinstein, an Evergreen biology professor who opposed the idea on the grounds that oppression should not be fought with oppression, was immediately labeled a racist. Protests were even held calling for his firing. Had Weinstein responded with discriminatory language or promotion of white supremacy, this overreaction might have been appropriate. However, Weinstein solely encouraged the elimination of race as a reason for discrimination, not through forcing white people off of campus, but by holding a presentation on race and racism on campus to which all would be welcomed and which he himself offered to organize. The response of protest and hatred against Weinstein illustrates the issue that many colleges have begun to struggle with at increasing rates: the liberal bubble. In theory, a world where everyone has liberal ideas sounds like an amazingly cooperative and cohesive place. However, ideological homogeneity does not promote openminded discourse.

A world where everyone thinks alike would foster the creation of political “rights” and “wrongs”. If you don’t subscribe to the same political stances of those around you, you not only face isolation, but, in the eyes of some, you deserve to be punished. At Evergreen, Weinstein faced the wrath of hundreds of college students that was so alarming the police chief told him to stay off of campus for his own safety. Condemning those who hold a different point of view is closeminded and provincial. It’s not easy to maintain a friendship when morals and ethics and deeply rooted belief systems come into play, but friendship isn’t necessary; respect is. Students develop crucial social and interpersonal skills in college, so campuses should not foster fear and apprehension. On the contrary, college is supposed to be an environment where students are encouraged to engage with others who may have opinions that disagree with their own. It appears that at Evergreen, an exchange regarding racism on campus which could have been valuable instead became violent. Instead of embracing the opportunity to discuss the issues, students blamed Weinstein for what they blindly labeled racist speech. Those who criticized Weinstein lost track of the goal of combatting racism, choosing to focus instead on denouncing diversity of opinion.

Coddling college students will get America – and them – nowhere. Laws aren’t debated by pointing fingers and yelling “racist.” Arguments aren’t won with pouting and ostracization of everyone outside of the liberal bubble. To combat racism in today’s polarized society we need educated people who aren’t afraid to leave their comfort zone and see things from a new perspective. If the students at Evergreen truly want to make a change, they need to talk to Weinstein and others to form a well-rounded plan to proceed. Don’t force people out of campus – invite them into the conversation. As stated by Barack Obama, “…disagreement cannot mean dysfunction. It can’t degenerate into hatred. Our regard for [the American people] compels us all, Democrats and Republicans, to cooperate, and compromise, and act in the best interests of our nation – one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” If we are ever to achieve a consensus in the country, we need to first face one of the primary issues that separates us – limiting exposure to conflicting yet often complementary viewpoints. Pop the bubble.

 

Chloe Starr is a rising Junior at the Emery/Weiner School. She has been interested in politics since a young age, and she is currently the Vice President of Emery/Weiner’s Feminist Club and a student government representative.

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