Olympia, Washington, has just reopened after student protests culminated in death threats and property damage that shut down the school last Thursday. This campus crusade gone horribly wrong was brought on by an innocuous email from a professor who objected to an event—a "Day of Absence" where white students and faculty were encouraged leave campus for a day—organized by a student group. What ensued illustrates a worrying trend on college campuses, where even progressive-leaning professors like Evergreen State's Bret Weinstein are feeling the wrath of "social-justice"-promoting student activists.
Whereas many of the headline-grabbing incidents at colleges lately have involved protests of conservative speakers, this incident was markedly different. In this case, a student group asked that their white peers and instructors take a "Day of Absence" from campus life to "explore issues of race, equity, allyship, inclusion and privilege." (The "Day of Absence" is traditionally a day where students and faculty of color leave campus to highlight their important roles at the school.) After hearing about the event, Weinstein, a white biology professor, sent the organizers an email expressing his disagreement with the new "Day of Absence" idea and his intent to not participate.
"There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles… and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away," wrote Weinstein in his March 15 email. "The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself." Weinstein went on to end his email on a diplomatic note, with an offer to organize an event discussing race issues "through a scientific/evolutionary lens."
The "Day of Absence" at Evergreen State came and went. Weinstein and his students' presence on campus evidently did not disrupt the event, because it was not until over a month later, in late May, when a group of around 50 students angrily confronted Weinstein over his lack of participation and demanded that he resign.
Weinstein attempted to engage them, but students repeatedly interrupted him and expressed no desire to have a dialogue; they wanted an apology for his "racist" email, not an explanation. Weinstein attempted to give them the latter with little success. Evergreen's police chief told Weinstein he should leave campus because it was no longer safe for him there.
Protests further escalated later that week, when hundreds of students took over the library building to confront administrators and barricaded themselves inside with furniture to block police from entering. The school was eventually shut down when someone called in and claimed they were going to shoot up the campus.
The events at Evergreen should serve as a wake up call to moderate liberals, both students and faculty, who may have refrained from criticism of these campus crusaders when people like alt-right firebrands Milo Yiannopoulos or Gavin McInnes were the targets of their wrath. Lest anyone doubts Weinstein's progressive bona fides (he describes himself as "deeply progressive"), one needs to look no further than the last time he caused controversy and faced harassment from college students: he wrote an article exposing racism and sexual abuse at a fraternity party. Perhaps "deeply progressive" just isn't progressive enough these days. Equal opportunity outrage has arrived and it's coming to a school near you.
Unfortunately, the Evergreen administration has shown nothing but ineptitude in this face of all this hysteria. There are calls from some professors to investigate Weinstein for "endangering" students, showing that they are more concerned about saving their heads from people who have clearly lost theirs than taking a stand for the right to free expression. Never mind that it was in fact Weinstein who was endangered by the students, not the other way around. College President George Bridges, who allowed himself to be bullied by the student protesters, has declined to take disciplinary action against any student involved and seems to have jumped on the bandwagon of the misguided faculty who think Weinstein is the problem.
Meanwhile, students who want no part of this manufactured-outrage on campus are the ones who truly suffer, deprived of educational opportunities as staff struggle not to offend those who could bring campus wrath—and possibly a federal inquiry—their way.