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Evergreen State College closes again after threat and protests over race

In a call to 911, an unidentified man claimed to have a gun and threatened to kill people at Evergreen State College. (Video: Photo: Tony Overman/The Olympian via AP; Audio: Thurston 911 Communications)

The Evergreen State College closed again Monday, the second time in days that security concerns led college officials to shut down a campus that has gotten national attention after protests over race.

The school in Olympia, Wash., shut down abruptly Thursday after receiving a threat, remained closed Friday, and reopened Saturday after law enforcement had thoroughly searched the campus.

Last week, someone called the county 911 line and told the dispatch officer, “Yes, I am on my way to Evergreen now with a .44 Magnum. … I am going to execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of. You have that, what’s going on here, you communist scumbag?”

The school announced that the campus would be closed “while law enforcement officials review new external threat information received over the weekend.” A school spokeswoman, Sandra Kaiser, declined to provide details about the additional information from the weekend. She said the closure was precautionary to give law enforcement time to review information from the weekend and that the school has been told that there was no active threat.

Student protests about race boiled over in late May, attracting national attention, when video of students of color shouting at a professor, the college president and other school officials went viral.

Student protesters were upset about racism on campus and said on social media that police had responded too aggressively to their peaceful demonstration. But the protests quickly became a symbol nationally for people who saw them as further evidence that college campuses have been overtaken by liberal extremists unwilling to listen to opposing viewpoints.

As at many colleges, racial tensions had been simmering all year. They boiled over after a white professor objected to a request by a school official that white people avoid campus on a day of symbolic protest. The school has held a “day of absence” for decades, in which students of color stay off campus and meet to discuss racial issues. When the event was changed this year, Bret Weinstein, a professor of biology, wrote, “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.”

Student protesters demanded that he and two other college officials be fired and that a series of changes be made to combat racism at the school. After a confrontation with the college’s president, George Bridges, Bridges agreed to a series of efforts including mandating cultural competency training for all faculty and staff. Student protest leaders did not return messages seeking comment.

Threats shut down college embroiled in racial dispute

Officials from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office referred questions to the college.

College, caught up in racial turmoil, remains closed Friday after threat of violence

Over the weekend, the school’s board of trustees decried “the lack of tolerance and respect” displayed by some students during the protests in May, calling it indefensible. “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,” the board chair wrote.

Dozens of faculty members signed a document expressing solidarity with the student protesters and pledging to work to improve race relations on campus.

The 4,500-student college, which operates on a quarter system, has a couple more weeks remaining in this term.

Here is the full statement from the board:

June 3, 2017
Renewing Our Commitment to Tolerance and Respect at Evergreen:
A Statement by the Board of Trustees
By Gretchen Sorensen, Chair of the Board of Trustees, The Evergreen State College
For nearly 50 years, The Evergreen State College has fulfilled its mission to provide an exceptional education to the students of Washington state, so that they are prepared for the workforce and society. Our graduates have highly successful careers in the sciences, arts, technology, government, education as well as other fields.
We are deeply committed to ensuring that Evergreen provides a civil, safe campus environment for all. During the last week, the conduct of a small percentage of Evergreen’s community members exhibited unacceptable behavior that is completely contrary to Evergreen’s values. Although almost all of students continued to attend classes and receive the extraordinary education that Evergreen delivers, the lack of tolerance and respect displayed by a few during these recent events and disruptions is indefensible.
Freedom of speech, civil discourse and open debate has been a cornerstone of our country’s history — and Evergreen’s history. In difficult times, these pillars become even more significant. 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.
Evergreen’s commitment to leveling the playing field in higher education for communities of color, the underserved and marginalized groups is unwavering. That is why we established the Equity Council in fall 2016. That is why we also launched the recruitment for a new vice president-level position for equity and inclusion at the same time. We will announce the new vice president later this month.
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. The tumultuous events of the last week have revealed the need to delve further into issues of diversity and equity at Evergreen. Going forward, the college will take a measured approach, which is crucial to ensure that we respond appropriately, rather than reactively.
As trustees, we will continue to work to encourage civil discourse, ensuring that all voices are heard and conversations are productive — in an environment where all teachers can teach and all students can learn. This has always been a part of the education at Evergreen.
We remain passionate about Evergreen’s vision, mission and values, including social justice, diversity and serving the public interest. President Bridges’ unmatched leadership and experience, combined with the college’s outstanding faculty and staff, provide an extraordinary education that serves both our students and the state of Washington. As trustees, in close collaboration with President Bridges, we will continue to ensure that we do so in the months, years and decades ahead.