In recent weeks, students at the Evergreen State College have engaged in an escalating number of protests culminating in the occupation of the campus library on Wednesday, May 24. The protests focused on specific incidents of mistreatment of students of color on the campus, and more broadly on continuing, unaddressed racism and anti-blackness. During the occupation, students escorted college administrators into the office of TESC president George Bridges, where the administrators remained until they heard the concerns of the students., and received a set of demands put forward by students. Immediately after the occupation, Bridges emailed students a promise to address the demands before June 2. Below is the statement Bridges made to students gathered in the Longhouse on May 26, in response to the demands.
I’m George Bridges, I use he/him pronouns.
I begin our time together today by acknowledging the indigenous people of the Medicine Creek Treaty, whose land was stolen and on which the college stands. I would like to acknowledge the Squaxin people who are the traditional custodians of this land and pay respect to elders past and present of the Squaxin Island Tribe. I extend that respect to other Native people present.
In response to Native Student Alliance requests, we commit to opening every event with this acknowledgement.
We also received requests from our Native students late yesterday. We discussed many issues they seek to have addressed. We are working on these requests, too. In our meeting, I committed that Native American students, staff, and faculty can sustainably collect, gather, and harvest the natural resources from any of The Evergreen State College’s lands for ceremonial purposes with legal impunity and asking no permission. Their additional requests include but are not limited to important items such as: funding and resources for the recruitment and retaining of Native students; paid positions to support the Native Student Alliance; a pre-orientation retreat for new and continuing Native students; funding for a Native American graduation; exemption from the catering and cooking prohibitions so that Native students may cook and eat Native foods in freedom.
These will be the focus of much work and commitment in the weeks ahead.
We are grateful to the courageous students who have voiced their concerns. We understand that the demands presented are evolving. We have worked intensely on this in the past two days. Our responses, too, will evolve to ensure we are attending to the needs you present. Our documents must live and be living, changing with additional issues and concerns as they arise. This work never ends.
We have heard from students very clearly that they experience racism on campus that interferes with their education. We acknowledge that the status quo isn’t acceptable. We don’t know all the answers. We want to come together with you to learn from your experience, to build solutions, and to take action. We are grateful for this catalyst to expedite the work to which we are jointly committed.
For a long time, we’ve been working on the concerns you’ve raised and acknowledge that our results have fallen short. We should have done more to engage students in our work on equity and inclusion. This week, you are inviting us into the struggle you have taken up. We share your goals and together we can reach them.
I’ll present this afternoon on our responses and action plan. Following our gathering, a message with the details that I present today will be sent via email and posted on the web. I hope you will read, digest, reflect, and come back next week for further dialogue. I invite you to respond in writing, individually, and in group meetings. We’ll create space for your input. Let’s keep the conversation alive.
We acknowledge that students want action, not just conversation. In this room we can only talk. I will talk about actions that are being taken immediately. We’ll have some food available around 6 pm; we’ll eat together and I hope the conversations will continue informally.
To ensure that students are able to enjoy an Evergreen education free from discrimination or bias, we commit to taking the following actions. I’ll structure my comments under the headings in the list of demands provided on May 24.
“We demand that no changes to the student code of conduct be made without democratic student consent.”
As of today, we’re not contemplating any action associated with the demonstrations of the last two weeks, but we can’t control what complaints we might receive. If we receive complaints, we’ll need to follow up on them.
We reaffirm our commitment to continuing our work to revise the student conduct code, with significant contributions from students at the center of the process.
Students will work on the code with staff over the summer, as well as work on other strategic initiatives. Students will be paid for their labor. Further consultation will occur with students in the fall.
All changes being made will be accessible and transparent to the campus community and the document will be a living document that will be adapted over time in order to serve evolving student needs.
By the end of next week, we will identify the time commitment requested of the students involved in this summer work as well as the compensation for this work.
Students will select the peers that will be involved in the process.
The current code of conduct remains in place until a revised code is developed. With this timeline in place, a revised code would be submitted that adheres to state law and our campus needs by winter 2018.
“We demand that Officer Timothy O’Dell be fired and suspended without pay while an investigation take place.” “We demand the immediate firing of Andrea Seabert Olsen from all Evergreen State College positions.” “We demand Bret Weinstein be suspended immediately without pay but all students receive full credit.”
We do not and will not fire any employees in response to a request. We do take complaints seriously. We have a college non-discrimination policy which applies to all members of our community. Following any complaint of discrimination, we will conduct a full investigation. If it is found that discrimination occurred, action is taken. The nature of that action is not released in order to protect the privacy of those involved. We recommit to the progressive discipline processes established with our union bargaining units and the State of Washington.
We must increase our capacity to investigate instances of alleged discrimination. Therefore, we have decided to increase the college’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Officer to full time today. In addition, if we need to hire outside investigators, we will. We will provide information about how this process works and who to contact on all aspects of the college’s website pertaining to students, faculty, and staff. We commit to communicating the process for reporting discrimination to all students at the start of every quarter and at the beginning of very academic year.
“We demand the immediate disarming of police services and no expansion of police facilities or services at any point in the future.”
The Police Services Community Review Board will review police response to calls and complaints received on May 14 and May 16. A timeline for this review will be finalized by the end of next week. As you know, the Review Board doesn’t include individuals from the President’s Office or Police Services. Many of whom on the board are people of color.
Annual training for police officers will be expanded because of the responsibility they hold and the critical services they provide to the college. The training will include techniques for safe and non-threatening engagement with students, addressing anti-black racism, de-escalation, minimizing use of force, serving trans and queer students, sexual assault response and responding to the access and special needs of students with disabilities. Private funding will be sought to support training.
We intend to retain a campus police force that understands and is responsive to the unique needs of our college campus.
“We demand mandatory sensitivity and cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees.”
The United Faculty of Evergreen and the College have executed a memorandum of understanding committing to mandatory training. I’d like to Invite Grace Huerta to speak about the agreement we’ve reached today. It reads:
“Now, therefore, the parties agree as follows:
“We share a mutual interest in ensuring that all Evergreen students receive an education that is culturally competent, culturally relevant and free from the negative effects of bias.
“To achieve this, we recognize that Evergreen faculty members must have access to, and take advantage of, professional development opportunities to address subjects including but not limited to institutional racism, and the needs of students of color, LGBTQIA students, undocumented students, victims of sexual assault, and students with disabilities.
“We commit to annual mandatory training for all faculty beginning in fall 2017.
“This agreement was ratified today by both parties”.
Required training for all staff currently includes a review of the college’s non-discrimination policy. We commit to providing cultural competency, sensitivity, and anti-bias training in the training required of all staff. By requiring this training for all staff, we will also ensure that all search committee members are trained. We’re launching staff training in the fall and offering it throughout the year.
“We demand the creation of an equity center.”
Today we commit to establishing a new and expanded equity and multicultural center with design plans finalized for student review by the beginning of fall quarter this year. You will have the space that you seek and deserve.
The design of the center will be informed by students. Over the summer, we seek to hire students to design and plan for a new equity and multicultural center in collaboration with staff. They will be compensated for their time. A final plan for implementation will be developed following the work completed this summer.
“We demand for the coordinator of the Trans & Queer Center to be permanently hired full time.”
Prior to this week’s events, we had initiated the process to appoint Amira Caluya on a permanent basis as Coordinator of the Trans & Queer Center. We expedited this process and confirm that they have been appointed on a permanent basis effective today.
“We demand the creation of a position that will support undocumented students.”
We have requested funding for a retention specialist to serve undocumented students from the Legislature. Once this is funded, we will recruit for this position immediately.
“We demand that the video created for Day of Absence and Day of Presence that was stolen by white supremacists and edited to expose and ridicule the students and staff be taken down by the administration by this Friday.”
Based on conversations with the Attorney General’s office, the most likely course of action requires an investigation. We commit to launching an extensive forensic investigation of the theft of this video and to determining who stole it from the student. If that investigation yields a suspect, we will seek criminal charges against the individual in consultation with the Attorney General.
Other personnel decisions:
We have heard you about your concerns. We truly have. In order to fulfill our commitment to you, the knowledge and life experience of our leadership team needs to change. We acknowledge the lack of diversity among the college’s senior leadership team and affirm that people of color must be involved in decisions that affect the college and our community.
We’ve welcomed three talented candidates for the role of Vice President/Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion to campus. I’m glad you participated in conversation with them and I seek your recommendations on whom we should hire.
I’m announcing today that in addition to the VP/VP, we will be recruiting a new leader to oversee student enrollment and retention at the College. Our longstanding Associate Vice President of Enrollment Services, Steve Hunter, has served Evergreen for 41 years in many ways. His retirement creates an opportunity to recruit new leadership.
The person we hire will be appointed to the senior leadership team and will focus, among other things, on student retention across all aspects of the college from the moment a student comes into contact with Evergreen to the point at which they graduate. I seek your involvement in the recruitment and hiring of that person so that we are assured we appoint someone whose attention is directly focused on the needs and success of underrepresented students at Evergreen.
We are hiring Dr. Stone Thomas as a senior advisor to the President and a member of the senior leadership team of the college to begin next week. Stone was among the first African American leaders of Evergreen, as well as the president of another institution. For 40 years, Dr. Thomas diligently supported learners in a number of roles including Coordinator of Upward Bound, Director of Educational Support Programs and Dean of Student Development, Vice President of Student Development and Campus President. In 2011 Dr. Thomas retired as Campus President from Tarrant County College South Campus. In tandem with his administrative appointments, Dr. Thomas served as an adjunct faculty for 12 years at The Evergreen State College.
We will increase the budget in First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services to address student wages and staffing and to ensure that the scholar’s pre-orientation program is accessible to more students. The resources will be available for use effective July 1. It is critical to have student voice involved in a variety of initiatives over the summer including the conduct code, summer hiring, new student orientation, developing a communication plan for next year, and work on the equity center. We will hire for three to four positions by the end of the academic year.
In closing, I want to invite you to reflect and we will reconvene next week for additional conversations. What I’ve shared today will be circulated electronically.
Free speech must be fostered and encouraged. Every faculty member, every student, every staff member must have the freedom to speak openly about their views. We are an institution dedicated to learning. Unless we continually seek to listen and to understand, rather than listening to react, we will not fulfill the mission of The Evergreen State College.
Discrimination of any form is not acceptable or tolerated on our campus. We must treat each other with respect and care. Let’s acknowledge the unique, individual roles that each of us plays at Evergreen.
Let me reiterate my gratitude for the passion and courage you have shown me and others. I want every one of you to feel safe on this campus and be able to learn in a supportive environment free from discrimination or intimidation.
I welcome your questions. I hope we can break bread together and continue the conversation informally.
Reprinted from the Cooper Point Journal.