Politics & Government

In wake of race protests at Evergreen, one lawmaker proposes to make it private

Hundreds of students filed into the Library building at The Evergreen State College last week as part of a protest against the college's administration.
Hundreds of students filed into the Library building at The Evergreen State College last week as part of a protest against the college's administration. Staff writer

A Republican state lawmaker from Eastern Washington on Wednesday blasted recent protests alleging racism at The Evergreen State College and said he wants the Legislature to privatize the school.

He’s also calling for an investigation to see if civil rights laws have been broken by college actions.

Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, introduced a bill Thursday that would ratchet down state funding for Evergreen over five years.

He also sent a letter Thursday to the state Human Rights Commission asking executive director Sharon Ortiz to “take action to correct discriminatory practices or policies” at the college.

His bill has little chance of passing, especially as lawmakers are embroiled in their second special session over a court-ordered fix to public schools. The commission will review the letter but is not launching any investigation at the moment, Ortiz said Wednesday.

But Manweller called the moves a “figurative shot across the bow” to school administration and protesters “that says, ‘Hey, the people that are funding you are watching and they’re not happy.’”

Some Democrats already are rejecting the bill. The party has a majority in the state House.

State Rep. Beth Doglio, an Olympia Democrat, said Evergreen is a “great institution” that should continue getting state money.

“Students there are working to make it a more inclusive, diverse campus and experience, and that’s important especially in today’s world,” Doglio said.

The legislative debate is a spillover from events that have attracted national attention in recent weeks. Protests began in mid-May in response to campus police questioning black students, according to a report in the Cooper Point Journal, the college’s student newspaper.

The campus police department repeatedly denied requests for comment on the event.

Tensions reached a new high after the public airing of an email exchange between school employees over a planned race-based Day of Absence event.

Rashida Love, director of the First People’s Multicultural Advising Services program, sent an email asking for some white students to volunteer not to be on campus for the event, to leave the college more open for students of color.

Typically minority students have retreated off campus on the annual Day of Absence, which usually involves only about 200 of the 4,800 students and staff at the school, college spokesman Zach Powers said. Powers said.

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.

Professor Bret Weinstein then sent back an email saying that asking white students to stay off campus is an “act of oppression in and of itself,” according to a copy of the exchange obtained by The News Tribune and The Olympian.

Some students have since protested Weinstein, calling him racist and asking the administration to fire him. Videos circulated of protesters confronting Weinstein have shown tense and sometimes angry moments. Weinstein has gone on Fox News to talk about the controversy and penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

The Day of Absence debate is a large part of what has drawn Manweller’s ire.

He likened it to racial discrimination and claimed there was peer pressure to force white people off campus. He added that protests have been reminiscent of communist witch hunts by some in Congress in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as intimidation tactics of Nazi “brown shirts.”

“I think that when a public university sends a message either directly or indirectly that you’re not welcome on campus based on your skin color, you have crossed the line,” he said.

Manweller said he expects more than 20 co-sponsors for his legislation in the House.

Doglio had a different view of the Day of Absence event. She said the exercise was an optional “learning experience” for white people to try to understand what it’s like to be a minority, and an important part of discussing “where we are in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion.”

It wasn’t harmful and isn’t worth trying to privatize the school over, she said.

“It’s an interesting learning opportunity that I certainly would have been interested in engaging in myself,” Doglio said.

A statement by some protesters sent to The Olympian last week said students also are demonstrating in part because of anti-black comments, harassment and physical violence by police and more.

“Students will not stand for this anymore, as students of color have never felt comfortable on campus and have not been treated equally,” the statement said.

Powers didn’t directly address Manweller’s legislation in a statement but said the school is “very focused on our 4,000 students, who represent Washington state in all of its diversity and points of view.”

“Public safety, freedom from discrimination and freedom of expression are important at Evergreen,” he said.

Walker Orenstein: 360-786-1826, @walkerorenstein

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