Recent events at The Evergreen State College are part of the larger national conversation surrounding students’ rights to protest, students safety on campus and students freedom of speech. As part of this conversation, we recognize that there is a need to improve campus climate for all students regardless of their identity while navigating the dichotomy between free speech and safe spaces.
The Evergreen State College’s Day of Absence and Day of Presence event is meant to encourage the campus community to have honest conversations about their values and build community through a deeper understanding of the oppressive forces that exist within our systems of higher education. At the Evergreen Olympia campus, students have led protests to address the demands of students of color.
We are concerned to know that some of the reactions include financial threats to withdraw state funding. There was a separate event that included physical threats from members of the public and has escalated to the point where local law enforcement received a warning of a violent threat towards The Evergreen State College. Due to these circumstances, the University was evacuated and shut down for two days. Although these two separate events were not correlated, this goes to show there is an ongoing problem about having courageous conversations about race.
There is proposed legislation that seeks to privatize The Evergreen State College which would remove all public funding towards their University. This action has potential to be harmful in regards to the funding sources and would have a negative impact on the student demographic which has high financial needs.
Whether legislators choose to support the demands of students or not, a legislative proposal to privatize the school should not be based on a disagreement of the way civic engagement occurs on this campus. This legislation was a myopic and disingenuous response. Further, this legislation is counterproductive as it sets a limit on students constitutional rights to free speech, rather than addressing the root causes of student concerns.
The Washington Student Association encourages all students to act as their own advocates and build their university to suit their needs. As the biggest stakeholders in the university system, students have the right to voice their concerns. We hope that campus administration and representatives in the City of Olympia put the concerns of students at the forefront of any political agenda in the name of higher education.