Tensions at Evergreen State College still raw as lawmakers hold hearing

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The weeks of protests, threats, and closures of Evergreen State College in recent weeks became a headline and talking point across the country.

They escalated following students speaking out and disrupting courses over a professor unwilling to support a yearly walkout over racial discrimination and awareness.

Evergreen State College President George Bridges said during a state Senate committee work session Tuesday that the national news stories “blew up with misinformation,” and stoked divisive coverage by conservative media.

The hearing that included state lawmakers, Bridges and other staff focused on the balance between free speech and safety. But no students were invited and no public comment was taken.

Lawmakers did hear from state Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, who blamed the protests on radicalized campus culture. He teaches at Central Washington University, not Evergreen, and supports removing state funding for the college. He blamed the problems on campus on the campuses themselves.

“So I don’t think they’re coming to college with these attitudes and if that’s the case, then we need to assume that this is something that they may be learning while at the university or college environment,” he said.

The mostly all-white speakers and all-white lawmakers did not allow or invite any students to share what the protests were about in the first place: racial disparities and protection for LGBTQ students.

A small group of them said exclusion from the hearing proves their point that protests were needed.

“We got to the point that we got to point that we got to, because we have not been listened to and we’ve been ignored and we have not been thought about for so long,” said a student who gave her name as Keah.

“The intent was not talked about whatsoever. I heard a lot of times that they were talking about students trying to shut down free speech---when free speech is not actually the issue in question here,” said student Vee Ramsey.

Because of threats, the Evergreen State College graduation had to be moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma and cost the college around $100,000 for state patrol and county sheriff protection.

Bridges said that the end of the school year and the outside media cycle dying down have helped calm tensions.