Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
A group of college students protest injustice on their campus. There’s enough local news coverage that conservative outlets pick up on it, and those outlets mock and vilify the students to push a familiar narrative of PC culture run amok. At some point, a white man appoints himself The Real Victim Here and the debate ends up centered around him. The reasons students protested in the first place get pushed aside, and instead we have yet another national referendum on the state of academia and the tolerance of the left.
Well, here we go again.
Evergreen State College–a small, non-traditional, public liberal arts school in Olympia, Washington–has been grappling with its own racism for a few months now. With Black students singled out by both campus security and Olympia police, students have voiced concerns about the extremely white administration’s ability to protect people of color on campus.
One avenue to voice those concerns is the annual Day of Absence. The Day of Absence has been a tradition at Evergreen State since 1970, an event in which some students and faculty of color leave the campus to attend workshops on surviving racism. White students, meanwhile, are invited to anti-racist workshops on campus. The whole thing is voluntarily.
This year, organizers wanted to make a change: activities for people of color would be held on campus, while those for white people would be done elsewhere. The switch was intended to reinforce the idea that people of color belong on campus and that correcting racism should inconvenience the racists, not those most affected by it.
But then biology professor Bret Weinstein got involved, declared himself a martyr, and appeared on Tucker Carlson to talk about himself.
Weinstein objected to the swap, making some tired, specious claim about racism against white people in a public email that, as columnist Jacqueline Littleton points out, was clearly designed to gather student support. It backfired, and protesters confronted Weinstein. Conservative media have used the incident to feed their insatiable victim complexes, with headlines like “Evergreen State Professor Under Attack For His Skin Color” and “Evergreen State Students Stage Anti-White Protest.” Weinstein himself has shown up on Fox News.
Let’s remember that the Day of Absence is voluntarily. Let’s also remember that asking people of color to leave and asking white people to leave exist in very different contexts. And let’s certainly remember that the student protests are more nuanced and important than a single professor spouting off shit he does not understand. And while we’re at it, let’s forget Weinstein and the conservatives he’s enabling.
There’s a lot that’s wrong with Evergreen State College and academia in general, but student protesters are very, very right.
ADDENDUM: Really, do read Jacqueline Littleton’s piece. It’s fantastic.
(Painting courtesy of PDX.)
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