Evergreen and bad allies


I keep getting asked to explain my position on the mess at Evergreen College. I’ve abstained so far because I roll my eyes at both sides. But OK, here goes…and here’s the background.

A bit of background: The “Day of Absence” is an Evergreen tradition that stretches back to the 1970s. As Mr. Weinstein explained on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, “in previous years students and faculty of color organized a day on which they met off campus — a symbolic act based on the Douglas Turner Ward play in which all the black residents of a Southern town fail to show up one morning.” This year, the script was flipped: “White students, staff and faculty will be invited to leave campus for the day’s activities,” reported the student newspaper on the change. The decision was made after students of color “voiced concern over feeling as if they are unwelcome on campus, following the 2016 election.”

Mr. Weinstein thought this was wrong. The biology professor said as much in a letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles,” he wrote, “and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.” The first instance, he argued, “is a forceful call to consciousness.” The second “is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” In other words, what purported to be a request for white students and professors to leave campus was something more than that. It was an act of moral bullying — to stay on campus as a white person would mean to be tarred as a racist.

Stop telling me that Weinstein is a wonderful progressive leftist. He talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk. What I see here is a situation where, for decades, students and faculty of color have borne the burden of demonstrating their significance while everyone gives ’em a thumbs up and cheers and waves little equality flags. This time, the supporters were asked to do a little more, that they take on the effort for one day of actually demonstrating their support in a more concrete way, and Weinstein refused to do that.

His basic message was that he was a shitty ally. He wasn’t willing to do one thing that his minority colleagues had been doing for years.

His letter made it worse. He tried to claim the moral high ground, that his refusal was a principled stand against bullying. Nonsense. It was a statement that you people might have an interest in fighting racism, but he had no interest in making any small accommodation to join in that battle. He was the personification of the passive white middle class that allows racism to persist, and I can understand how people would be outraged at hearing that bullshit from a person who had presented himself as supportive.

But the protesters went too far after that. You don’t get to demand someone be fired for being a shitty ally — there are people who are much, much worse working on college campuses. Protest, yes; scorn the guy, yes; take him off your list of friendly, supportive faculty for sure. But nope, it’s not a firing offense. It is also not grounds for threatening violence, or even worse, threatening violence to his students.

I’ve thought about what I would do in Weinstein’s position, and it would be an easy decision: I would have joined in the protest, and announced it to my classes for that day. Professors do have responsibilities, though, which might have made me hesitate, and I’d have had to do some calculations to figure out what to do to accommodate the students and keep the class on track, and it would have involved extra work on my part, but this is something for which there is precedent and almost certainly a procedure at Evergreen.

I occasionally have to miss class. I missed three days this past year to give a talk in China, and conferences and invited lectures happen all the time for almost every faculty member. The policy here is that I have to give written notice to my administrative head, including my plan to cover the coursework for the students. That typically involves asking another faculty member to give a guest lecture (I’ve reciprocated for my colleagues), or a description of readings or other assigned work for students to do in my absence.

Doing that is routine and trivial. I have to do it several times a year (if these turned into frequent extended absences, of course, I’d have some ‘splainin’ to do and would be getting dressed down by the administration and my peers), and I’m sure Weinstein has been in similar situations himself. If we’re willing to do that for a science meeting, I have to wonder why Weinstein couldn’t do it to support students of color for a day. Priorities, I guess.

So, shitty ally exposed. Do protest and make your opinions of the guy known. Do not, however, demand his head on a platter and harass his students. I’m more on the side of protesters, but a few of them crossed a line I can’t support.

P.S. I have a fondness for Evergreen, and when I was looking for teaching positions it was high on my list. I even got to the point of having a phone interview with their biology committee about 18 years ago, but didn’t make the final cut — I was coming from the traditional Big State College and didn’t have the kind of interdisciplinary/small classroom experience they wanted (they said, or maybe I just sucked). I was disappointed, but finding a job at a small liberal arts college right after that made up for it.

Comments

  1. logicalcat says

    Im not even entirely sure the protests are directly related to the event as it happened several months before. It was mentioned in the video of the students confronting the professor tho. The phrase “science targets minorities” is also present. I got a tiny Watson vibe, but do not have enough info to be sure and could be wrong.

  2. says

    I don’t really like obligatory protest events (and that goes for protests that are obligatory on white people, or on people of color). It’s just too easy to imagine someone having duties that cannot be put off a day (say, your boss demands it), or someone simply not following local news. Also, people with ambiguous ethnic identities and/or appearances, what do we do?

    That said, my guess is that this protest event wasn’t as obligatory as Weinstein said.

  3. btot says

    Weinstein did not object to taking a day off to support people of color, he objected to a bullying environment that was using the tools of oppression in the name of equity. For this, he was targeted with an extreme response: disrupting his class, calling for his firing, threatening him, his students, and his wife.

  4. rgmani says

    I wouldn’t go quite so far as PZ has but I agree that were I in such a situation, I would have accommodated the students – if at all possible. However, I won’t go so far as to label Weinstein a “shitty ally” or any such thing. The fact is I don’t know enough about him to come to such a conclusion. For all you know, he has been a perfectly good ally on all but this one occasion. I disagree with his views on whether this type of protest is appropriate but I won’t judge him based on this one incident. By the same token, I don’t have enough evidence to call him a “wonderful progressive leftist” either.

    I am far more concerned about the reaction of the students. All that Weinstein did was write a civil (if somewhat pompous) email. The students rudely interrupted his class, shouted him down, called for him to be fired and shut down the campus for several days. From what I understand, there were credible threats to Weistein’s safety. This is a huge overreaction to one email, It is even more disheartening to see that the students are in the end going to get what they want. No one is going to be disciplined and Weinstein will probably be forced out of his job.

    – RM

  5. cero says

    First of all, I agree with your conclusion. Students may label him a “shitty ally” if they want, but they shouldn’t call to fire him or even threaten him.

    But I don’t see how you came to the conclusion, that he just didn’t want to stay a day off-campus (instead of trying to do the morally right thing). It obviously would have been much easier to just stay home. Even if he didn’t predict this enormous backlash, he certainly knews that writing this mail would lead to a lot of controversial discussion.

  6. joebiohorn says

    I’ll just add that screaming insults at a “shitty ally” is possibly not the best way to convert him to a good ally. No, I’ll go further. I think Weinstein took a principled stand for real liberal values and I like to think I would have done the same in similar circumstances.

  7. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    So, for another perspective on what happened….

    The Media Brought the Alt-Right to My Campus

    This year, the organizers decided to hold workshops for white people off-campus instead — a reversal of the original concept. The intention was to put the focus on students of color, and highlight their contributions within the Evergreen space. The off-campus event was optional, and students who wanted to participate had to enroll: The workshops could hold only 200 people. Evergreen has about 4,000 students. There was no way the whole school could have been forced to participate.

    Yet Mr. Weinstein declared that this event structure was “an act of oppression” against white people.

    It is important to point out that Mr. Weinstein was within his rights to question how these initiatives were structured. But his critiques seemed to diminish the very purpose of them. Students wanted him to understand why these initiatives were so important to so many in our community.

    What can’t be seen in the viral video of the student protest in his office is that students started by calmly stating their concerns. The way he responded to those concerns made students feel invalidated. It may have seemed inappropriate that they let their emotions escalate in frustration, but that doesn’t mean there was no context.

    But the media saw in Mr. Weinstein a self-proclaimed progressive who appeared to be vilified simply for voicing a dissenting opinion. Evergreen students were accused of violence and of trying to enforce a divisive political correctness.

    The fallout from that coverage hit our campus like a hailstorm. It may not have been his intention, but Mr. Weinstein’s many interviews effectively became a call to arms for internet trolls and the alt-right. Online vigilantes from 4chan, Reddit and other forums swarmed to unearth Evergreen students’ contact information. They have harassed us with hundreds of phone calls, anonymous texts and terrifyingly specific threats of violence that show they know where we live and work.

    After I published an essay on Medium to explain the protesters’ side of the story, my full name, phone number and home address were posted online, and I was bombarded with hate-filled messages. I found my name and personal information on message boards, along with rape threats and discussions about which racial slur fit me best (the consensus was the N-word). It took three days to get my personal information taken down, and for others it took longer.

    In the past few weeks, the school has been shut down four times because of threats, including one from an anonymous caller who said, “I’m on my way to Evergreen University now with a .44 Magnum. I am gonna execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of.”

    Downtown Olympia has seen a sudden influx of visitors wearing Nazi and white supremacist regalia. Campus buildings have been scrawled with graffiti that says, “Diversity Equals White Genocide” and “No Safe Space For Commies.” Swastikas and racial slurs have been chalked and painted on Evergreen property.

    The same author has a more detailed description of what happened here.

  8. rgmani says

    @What a Maroon, living up to the ‘nym

    From the article you linked to

    What can’t be seen in the viral video of the student protest in his office is that students started by calmly stating their concerns. The way he responded to those concerns made students feel invalidated.

    Of course, I have no way of telling what went on before filming started. However, here is a link to the video.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTnDpoQLNaY

    All I can hear Weinstein doing is to offer to discuss this matter and to deny that anything that he did was racist or target black people and he keeps getting abused or shouted down. Seems to me (and I admit that this is a purely subjective impression) that the students expected a mea culpa from him and when that wasn’t forthcoming, resorted to the abuse you see on this video.

    Let me emphasize that I disagree with Weinstein on this issue but it is possible to disagree with someone and not consider them an evil racist.

    – RM

  9. logicalcat says

    Once again a bunch of people act like assholes, but everyone ignores all the ones who are not protesting. The deplorables control the narrative.

  10. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    @rgmani,

    Yeah, I don’t know the full context of the video, and I find it very hard to parse. What I see is a white man being shouted at and not listened to, and then followed around a bit. Speaking as a white man who doesn’t get yelled at a lot but often doesn’t get listened to*, I can sort of empathize with him. And if people are threatening violence against him and/or his family, they should certainly suffer the legal consequences.

    But what I find most disturbing about this is that Weinstein is controlling the narrative (with the help of the likes of Tucker Carlson and the WSJ editorial page), and so we hear nothing about the convergence of the alt-right on Olympia, or the threats to the students from the white supremacists. Why is that? Is that not really happening?

    *Largely because I tend to mumble.

  11. rgmani says

    @What a Maroon, living up to the ‘nym

    But what I find most disturbing about this is that Weinstein is controlling the narrative (with the help of the likes of Tucker Carlson and the WSJ editorial page), and so we hear nothing about the convergence of the alt-right on Olympia, or the threats to the students from the white supremacists. Why is that? Is that not really happening?

    I find that disturbing too. However, I try to see it from Weinstein’s point of view. He made, what must have been to him, an innocuous comment. What followed was students disrupting his class, calling for him to be fired and threatening him and his wife. Few, if any, of his colleagues gave him public support. According to Weinstein, many privately supported him but only one person was brave enough to speak out publicly. The university administrators did not support him either. On the contrary, the president’s office made statements that seemed to criticize him (without naming him explicitly). I’m pretty sure he felt hung out to dry by everyone at his university and so took his story to places where he would get a sympathetic ear – which ended up being right-wing media outlets.

    I agree with you that it is unfortunate that right-wing outlets gave this story wide publicity. Adding alt-right thugs and white-supremacists to the mix makes an ugly situation even uglier. I don’t believe for a moment that Tucker Carlson et al have any great regard for “freedom of speech” or anything like that. They just see Weinstein’s story as a useful stick to beat liberals with.

    – RM

  12. johnmarley says

    @rgmani (#11)

    However, I try to see it from Weinstein’s point of view. He made, what must have been to him, an innocuous comment.

    Yes. To him. You don’t get to decide if your comments were actually innocuous. You don’t get to say “Nuh-uh” when someone says “that seems kinda bigoted”. There’s a reason for all the *-splaining terms floating around these days. Doubling down never helps. I think that’s where PZ’s “shitty ally” comment comes from.

  13. Chuck Stanley says

    Students are being taught that bad behavior is not only not punished but that it is rewarded. Can’t wait until these mature individuals get out into the real world and try the same. The New York times is exactly right. Mob behavior indeed. Frankly I’m embarrassed that anyone thinks this is okay because he dared write an email disagreeing. These children shouldn’t have been let out of the house by their parents.

  14. HawkAtreides says

    @rgmani

    Weinstein referred to the altered structure of the Day of Absence, in which the workshops for non-POC registered attendees were moved off campus, as “encouraging another group to go away” and “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself”, implying that the right of white students and faculty “to speak – or to be” was under attack “based on skin color”. Again, this was a voluntary event, where no one was ordered or forced to leave campus, and in fact the organizers “invite[d] each person to attend the program of their choice, wherever they feel the most comfortable”. He then attempted to hijack the entire issue by talking about how he’d be willing to attend – host, even! – “a public presentation and discussion of race through a scientific / evolutionary lens”, dismissing the societal concerns regarding systemic racism and ending in a self-backpat equivalent to “All Lives Matter”. And he CC’d the “All Staff & Faculty DL” list to make sure everyone heard his diatribe (he has not, as far as I can tell, ever claimed the CC was unintentional). If he thought that was “innocuous”, he must have a doozy of a definition of that word.

    I do not condone any threats or violence leveled against Weinstein or his family, but I don’t think calling for his firing is entirely out of line – he turned what could have been a calm objection to the altered structure into a White Oppression rant and broadcast what should have been a one-on-one discussion to the entire faculty and staff list. He also doesn’t at any point seem to be concerned the fact that his outlets are alt-right and regressive media, and in fact holds the alt-right and their “Rational” overlords blameless for everything.

    Let’s go a step further into his position by looking at his Twitter. He’s referring to those opposed to his position as “#blacksupremisists” [sic] and “the minority that are interested in a race based hierarchy”. He continues to refer to the entire situation as a “witch hunt” (sound familiar?). He’s RT’d Sam Harris claiming that his detractors “need cult deprogramming”. Prior to the DoA debacle, he’d been tweeting about the “deep state”, buying into Jordan B. Peterson’s attacks on gender theory and the humanities in general, talking about “Political Correctness” leading to “liberal tyranny”, the “regressive left” versus the “organic left”, and being more than happy to associate with Dave “I’m a classical liberal” Rubin. He’s a textbook “brogressive” – his “progressivism” often goes no further than “not having voted for Trump”.

    He’s not a “shitty ally” – that would require him actually being an ally. He’s the very kind of “white moderate” MLK wrote about: the kind of man who speaks of racial equality in theory but refuses to inspect the reasons for inequality, who thinks that his Rational Basis and First-Order Logic make him inherently correct.

    @joebiohorn, #6

    If shouting down POC voices because they wanted to hold the white workshop off-campus is “real liberal values”, then liberalism is a dead and regressive philosophy.

  15. says

    He then attempted to hijack the entire issue by talking about how he’d be willing to attend – host, even! – “a public presentation and discussion of race through a scientific / evolutionary lens”

    Yeah… “shitty ally” is maybe too positive a term for him. Where can we read about this?

  16. joebiohorn says

    @HawkAtreides Exactly who shouted down whom? What video were you watching? And they did not just “hold the white workshops off campus”. They clearly wanted to ban any white presence on campus, an important difference. Let’s try a comparison: Jewish students want to hold an even on campus and propose to ban all non-Jews from campus. How would that have gone down with the Weinstein attackers?

  17. joebiohorn says

    @HawkAtreides Oh, one other thing: “liberalism is a dead and regressive philosophy” when we (well, actually, you) refuse to tolerate alternative viewpoints (not, of course, the same thing as “alternative facts”). I detest intolerance on both the right and left. Don’t think you are better than the right just because you have the “correc”t version of intolerance.

  18. rgmani says

    Last comment on this topic. For those accusing Weinstein of being bigoted or even a “shitty ally,” please check the following link

    http://www.thedp.com/article/2017/06/penn-91-graduate-bullied-for-speaking-out-against-racism-and-sexism-on-campus-becomes-center-of-nati

    Turns out that when he was an undergraduate at U Penn, he spoke out forcefully against racism and ended up getting death threats from right wingers.

    I disagree with his views on the Day of Absence and I’m not happy about the way the alt-right has been brought into this but I cannot think of Weinstein as anything but a decent man who does not deserve what he is going through.

    – RM

  19. logicalcat says

    @joebiohorn

    Where do you get that they clearly wanted to ban all white presence? Other than from Weinstein himself. Read the official campus page regarding the event. It was voluntary with limited seating and orchestrated by many of the white students themselves.

  20. Johnny Vector says

    rgmani #18:

    For those accusing Weinstein of being bigoted or even a “shitty ally,” please check the following link

    And here we have exhibit 31,495 in the category of “why we should use words like racist and bigot only to describe actions, not people.”*

    I cannot think of Weinstein as anything but a decent man

    How about George Washington? He was good to his troops, he voluntarily gave up power when he could have kept being re-elected for life, he was kind to his slaves… Wait a sec. Slaves?

    So, was Washington a bigot? Answer: Not a useful question.

    Likewise “spoke out forcefully against racism as a youth” does not forever insulate one from being called out for doing something shitty. If we refuse to call people racist, and reserve the word for actions**, then “I’m not a racist so my actions can’t be racist” becomes much more obviously absurd.

    *This idea is not mine alone, but mine. I think Crommunist first put it in my head.

    **Speech is a form of action, for this context.

  21. Drawler says

    Yes. To him. You don’t get to decide if your comments were actually innocuous. You don’t get to say “Nuh-uh” when someone says “that seems kinda bigoted”.

    Yea, actually you do.

    There’s this weird tendency to treat certain people or groups interpretation of things as beyond reproach, which leads to absurd situations like this were people are bending over backwards to justify in some way the insane response students are having to this guys objection. What he did wasn’t bigoted or racist; he shouldn’t be shamed for defending himself nor should we be hesitant to treat these students like any other adults and say they’re being stupid when they’re behaving that way.

    Where do you get that they clearly wanted to ban all white presence? Other than from Weinstein himself. Read the official campus page regarding the event. It was voluntary with limited seating and orchestrated by many of the white students themselves.

    I don’t think Weinstein suggested it was involuntary, at least initially. His objection was that, voluntary or not, students should not be made to feel as though merely showing up to campus was a repudiation of the black community on campus. It was pretty clear to me that it was a tactical objection on his part: that this particular form of protest was a really shitty way of building racial solidarity. Which is correct.

  22. logicalcat says

    I don’t think Weinstein suggested it was involuntary, at least initially. His objection was that, voluntary or not, students should not be made to feel as though merely showing up to campus was a repudiation of the black community on campus. It was pretty clear to me that it was a tactical objection on his part: that this particular form of protest was a really shitty way of building racial solidarity. Which is correct.

    Except they weren’t. They weren’t made to feel as though merely showing up to campus was a repudiation of the black community. Read the links found within this thread. Read the actual page of the event. https://evergreen.edu/multicultural/day-of-absence-day-of-presence.

    Look at the date of the viral video, the date of the protest related to it, and the date of the event. They are more than a month apart. It went on without a hitch, save for the one professor who misconstrued everything in order to fulfill the “regressive left” narrative. Which means that the protests have very little, if nothing to do with the event that Weinstein is using as a defense of himself. These kids seem like assholes. I am pissed that once again everyone is being an asshole, but the only group of assholes anyone seems to be concerned with are liberal protesters/SJWs. Because the deplorables control the narrative. And the white male is the only one who’s story is being heard abroad. We are still missing the context as to why he was cornered to begin with. The emails were only part of the puzzle. If his objection to the day of absence was the real reason why he was confronted by a mob of students, then this confrontation should have happened a lot sooner instead of months apart. But everyone took Weinsteins version of the story hook line and sinker. Making him out to be some kind of courageous objector to racial segregation, when all he really is is someone who at best made a big deal out of nothing and at worst deliberately dishonest. The student say “the sciences target minorites”, and I want to know why they said that to him.

    http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/education/discord-at-evergreen-state-simmered-for-a-year-before-it-boiled-over/

  23. btot says

    logicalcat,
    You seem to be saying that the mobbing of Weinstein doesn’t make sense – so Weinstein must have done something to deserve it?

    Maybe the problem is that the students are acting irrationally, not that Weinstein is “spinning” a tale?

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