After weeks of brewing racial tension on campus, hundreds of students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia protested against the college administration and demanded change on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Lisa Pemberton lpemberton@theolympian.com
After weeks of brewing racial tension on campus, hundreds of students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia protested against the college administration and demanded change on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Lisa Pemberton lpemberton@theolympian.com

Education

A school year of events that led to chaos at The Evergreen State College

By Lisa Pemberton

lpemberton@theolympian.com

September 23, 2017 1:44 PM

Before protests erupted on The Evergreen State College in May, student unrest against police and the college’s administration had been building up for months.

SEPT. 21, 2016: STUDENTS PROTEST CONVOCATION

During the program, which drew about 1,000 attendees, two students stand by the stage holding a sign that reads “Evergreen cashes diversity checks, but doesn’t care about blacks,” according to the Cooper Point Journal.

Evergreen senior Sarah-Grace Vasquez, 39, described it as a Black Lives Matter event and “a beautiful, silent protest.”

She said it was the day after violent protests erupted in Charlotte, North Carolina, following a police shooting.

About 30-40 students remained after the event and used the sound equipment to engage with each other, college officials say. Vasquez said things turned ugly.

“I was really surprised at how angry some of the white students were at the black students that were protesting,” she said.

NOV. 9, 2016: STUDENTS PROTEST AT PURCE HALL DEDICATION

About 25 students stand to the side of the podium with their fists raised during a ceremony to dedicate a $12.75 million remodeled building after former Evergreen president Les Purce.

One student stood in front of the podium and blocked a speaker from view, and later took the microphone and read a statement that lasted about three minutes.

“Les Purce did not provide his prepared acceptance speech, rather he used the time to attempt to engage with the demonstrators,” stated a memo shared with Evergreen’s top leaders.

Afterward, current Evergreen president George Bridges met with about 40 students to continue the conversation.

It was the day after U.S. President Donald Trump was elected, and protests were occurring all over the country.

That night, Evergreen faculty member Naima Lowe posted on Facebook: “To my white friends: You’re on notice. If you’re not paying me cash money, working on an impeachment plan, or burning a cop shop to the ground, we don’t have much to say to each other,” according to faculty member Bret Weinstein’s tort claim filed this summer against Evergreen.

NOV. 18, 2016: WEINSTEIN SENDS EMAIL

Weinstein sends an email about the college’s equity action plan, which was released earlier in the month, saying he did not believe the proposal would benefit Evergreen’s students of color.

JAN. 11: POLICE CHIEF SWEARING-IN CANCELED

About 15 people arrive together at the swearing-in of the college’s new police chief Stacy Brown, and eight stand blocking the podium, preventing anyone else from using it. They chant “(Expletive) cops!” according to the Cooper Point Journal.

“One or more people blared an air horn repeatedly, preventing anyone from hearing much of anything,” college officials wrote.

A student “aggressively approached” and took the mic away from Wendy Endress, the vice president of student affairs.

Brown’s children and family were escorted from the area because of “concerns for safety and an interest in preventing further presence in the situation,” officials wrote.

Later, the student who took the mic was accused of defacing the rear window of a police vehicle with the words “We Bash Back.”

MARCH 15: WEINSTEIN SENDS ANOTHER EMAIL

Professor Weinstein protests against the new format for Day of Absence/Day of Presence, in which whites will be asked to leave campus, rather than the tradition of having people of color leave campus.

MAY 14: POLICE DETAIN STUDENTS LATE AT NIGHT

Campus police detain two students after a week of escalating Internet conversations. Both students are black, and were led out of their dorms at about 11:45 p.m. by their residential directors to be questioned by police, according to the Cooper Point Journal.

MAY 15: JOB CANDIDATE QUESTIONED

Students take over a conversation with the first of three job candidates for the vice president of equity position, and talk about recent events and history of racism on campus.

MAY 18: TRIAL ENDS FOR THOMPSON AND CHAPLIN

Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, two brothers had been shot by an Olympia Police officer in 2015 during an altercation, are found guilty on lesser assault charges in the high-profile case. Although the case wasn’t on campus and didn’t involve Evergreen students, faculty members who spoke to The Olympian’s Editorial Board this spring said they felt the conviction of the two black men influenced student protesters’ actions that week.

MAY 19: BRIDGES HOSTS CONVERSATION ON RACE

Some students call for a boycott of a conversation Bridges scheduled with students on race relations.

The Cooper Point Journal said the students sent out a news release stating: “We have already voiced our experiences over this year and Wendy (Endress) and George (Bridges) have made it obvious they don’t care about how recent events are affecting the student body. They are making an effort to diminish our voices and take control of a situation they refused to acknowledge until it began to tarnish their reputation.”

MAY 23: WEINSTEIN IS CONFRONTED

Weinstein’s class is disrupted by a group of students.

“It was pretty shocking, actually,” said Brian Stewart, 38, of Onalaska, who was in the class and is pursuing a master’s degree in Evergreen’s environmental studies program. “Basically we were forced to leave our classroom because of the protest.”

Video clips of the protest in which students are calling Weinstein a racist and demanding his resignation were posted on social media and went viral.

“When the cops arrived, student protesters formed a protective ring around the students of color conversing with Weinstein,” the Cooper Point Journal reported. “The ring of students was ripped apart by officer Timothy O’Dell when he shoved through protesters, injuring two students.”

MAY 23: STUDENTS MEET WITH BRIDGES

Bridges meets with students at 4 p.m. to discuss Weinstein, the actions of O’Dell and other concerns. Weinstein is in the crowd. Students take over the meeting, according to a college memo.

Police Chief Brown was asked by protesters to attend without weapons, and Bridges told her to adhere to that request.

MAY 24: STUDENTS TAKE OVER BUILDING

A group of students send the following statement to The Olympian: “What started out as anti-black comments on social media has turned into the dismissal of the rights of students and femmes of color, physical violence by police, and false sentencing of students protesting. Black trans disabled students are actively being sought out and confronted by campus police constantly, police are refusing to explain their actions and harassment. Students will not stand for this anymore, as students of color have never felt comfortable on campus and have not been treated equally.”

Protesters use furniture to barricade the main entrance of the library building, which houses the administration on its third floor, hand out fliers that depict Brown dressed in a KKK outfit, and chant outside of Bridges’ office.

Later, in a meeting with college administrators, deans and a collective bargaining team for the faculty union, students present a list of demands.

MAY 26: BRIDGES MEETS WITH STUDENTS

President Bridges holds a meeting with students at 5 p.m. in the Longhouse, and fields “criticism for a stark refusal to disarm the police, and, for the most part, repeating patterns instead of acting, implying that many things are out of his control,” the Cooper Point Journal reported. He issues a response to their demands, although several of the promises already were in the works.

MAY 26: WEINSTEIN APPEARS ON FOX NEWS

Weinstein talks about the protests and his views on Tucker Carlson’s FOX News show, in a segment called “Campus Craziness.”

Some Evergreen faculty members and students say his appearance fueled attacks on the campus from the alt-right.

“Bret went onto Fox News, and the world empathized with him,” said Evergreen student Rachel Plentywolf. “That’s when it started going crazy and out of control. It was just like an explosion.”

MAY 31: LAWMAKER ANNOUNCES BILL TO PRIVATIZE EVERGREEN

Republican state Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, announces that he will introduce a bill to privatize Evergreen and called for an investigation to see if the college has violated civil rights.

‘Direct Threat’ Closes Evergreen College Campus

A threat to student safety prompted a campus alert and closure of The Evergreen State College on Thursday. Video by Tony Overman

Tony Overman toverman@theolympian.com

JUNE 1: EVERGREEN RECEIVES A MASSACRE THREAT

The campus is evacuated in the late morning because of a phoned-in threat.

“Yes, I’m on my way to Evergreen University now with a .44 Magnum,” the caller said. “I’m gonna execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of. You have that? What’s going on there? You communist, scumbag town. I’m going to murder as many people on that campus as I can. Just keep your eyes open, you scumbag.”

The campus remained closed on June 2, reopened for weekend classes and was closed again on June 5 because of an additional, non-specific threat.

JUNE 15: CAMPUS CLOSES FOR PROTESTS

Evergreen officials close the campus at 3 p.m. after there are several announcements of multiple demonstrations on campus, including one hosted by the controversial group Patriot Prayer. The protesters face off for a few hours, and one man is arrested for disorderly conduct.

JUNE 16: GRADUATION IS HELD AT CHENEY STADIUM

Citing safety concerns, Evergreen officials agree to pay $100,000 to rent Cheney Stadium, Tacoma’s minor-league baseball stadium, for graduation. About 1,000 students participate in the event.

“I didn’t even walk in my own graduation — it wasn’t feasible for me,” said Evergreen graduate Lara Semidei, 43, of Olympia. “It would have been one thing for my kids sitting in Red Square, where I can see them. … It’s another thing for them to be sitting in a huge stadium by themselves and far away from me.”

Evergreen's commencement in Tacoma ballpark

The Evergreen State College held their commencement ceremonies in Cheney Stadium in Tacoma because of recent turmoil and threats involving the college.

Peter Haley phaley@thenewstribune.com

JULY 3: AN ARREST IS MADE IN CAMPUS THREATS

Robert Kerekes Jr., 53, of New Jersey, is arrested for allegedly making phone calls against the college in June. He is charged with making terroristic threats, criminal coercion and raising a false public alarm, according to police and federal officials.

JUNE 20: EVERGREEN OFFICIALS TALK TO LAWMAKERS

President Bridges tells the state Senate Law and Justice Committee that the college will need more money for public safety training, equipment and staffing.

JULY 5: WEINSTEIN AND HIS WIFE FILE $3.85 MILLION TORT CLAIM AGAINST COLLEGE

Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, file a 14-page narrative that goes into depth about racial tension building up on campus. It includes details on numerous events, including the Day of Absence/Day of Presence activity that Weinstein took issue with, his objections to the implementation of an Equity Plan, actions of other faculty members that he felt were inappropriate, and threats that he and his wife received.

A tort claim is a required step for people who intend to file a lawsuit against a state agency.

AUG. 7: POLICE CHIEF BEGINS NEW JOB

Brown resigns from Evergreen to become a Tumwater police officer.

SEPT. 15: COLLEGE ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH WEINSTEIN AND HEYING

The couple agree to resign from their faculty positions, and will receive $450,000, and an additional $50,000 toward legal costs.

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