Dozens of people turned out for a rally Wednesday afternoon to show their support for The Evergreen State College.
They held signs and waved at passing motorists near the kissing statue on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia.
"This is a lovely event," said Juli Kelen of Olympia. "It just feels so wonderful to be out here and have a chance to stand up for Evergreen."
The nearly 4,000-student public liberal arts college in west Olympia has made national headlines in recent weeks because of racial tensions, protests, threats and student unrest. Two state legislators have introduced bills that would pull the school's funding.
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Rally organizer Mark Alford said Wednesday’s event was aimed at showing the college's students and its critics that Evergreen has love and support from its hometown.
"It's got a good history with this town, and its presence has absolutely been a positive influence in Olympia over the past 45 years," said rally participant Kathleen O'Shaunessy, a clinical psychologist who was on faculty at Evergreen for several years and now serves as consulting supervisor for the college's student wellness center.
However, O'Shaunessy said she believes college president George Bridges was "overly tolerant" with some of the school's protesters in recent weeks.
Viral videos show some students screaming and acting disrespectful to faculty members and college administrators. At first, Bridges said students wouldn't be disciplined. He later said he would investigate student protesters who had multiple complaints against them.
"I think intervention needed to come a bit sooner than it did, but I think George Bridges is a good president for Evergreen," O'Shaunessy said. "I think he's doing a good job."
More rallies are planned Thursday on Evergreen’s campus, in advance of Evergreen’s commencement on Friday.
A conservative “alt-right” group known as Patriot Prayer plans to hold a “Free Speech Evergreen State College” rally from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Meanwhile, a separate group calling itself the Evergreen Anti-Fascist Community has organized a counter demonstration from 3 to 9 p.m., according to a Facebook invitation. And an event called “Oppose Patriot Prayer” from 4:30 to 8 p.m. also was posted on the Puget Sound Anarchists’ web site.
College officials announced Wednesday that they’ll suspend operations at 3 p.m. Thursday because of the events, and access to campus will be “limited” after 3:15 p.m.
“This decision was made in light of potential disruption around planned demonstrations by off-campus organizations,” the college posted on its website. “Washington State Patrol will be on campus working with Evergreen Police Services to ensure campus safety.”