Security tight at graduation ceremony for The Evergreen State College

by: KIRO 7 News Staff Updated:

TACOMA, Wash. - On Friday, hundreds of The Evergreen State College students will graduate in a ceremony that has been moved off-campus following protests and threats.

School officials say it will be easier to maintain security at Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium instead of holding their graduation on campus.


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Security is being made a priority there.

After one person was arrested as a conservative, pro-Trump group protested on campus Thursday evening, KIRO 7 has not heard of any protests planned at Friday’s 10:30 a.m. graduation ceremony or on the Evergreen campus.

School officials changed the venue away from campus after the protests gained more attention following a professor challenging the school’s "day of absence" in which white students would leave campus to discuss racism and equity.

What followed were protests and a shooting threat that closed the campus for two days.

In wake of those threats, the school administration officials say the Red Square graduation ceremony normally held on campus would be moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma where crowds could be easier managed.

No one will be able to come to the ceremony or enter the parking lot without a ticket.

Security says they'll be screening every person who enters.


Here’s a short timeline of events:    

  • Protests in May followed a white professor's decision to oppose an event in which organizers asked white students to leave campus for a talk about race. The event was a reversal of the college's longstanding annual "Day of Absence," in which minorities attend programs off campus.
  • Several videos were released on social media showing students screaming and cursing at administrators.
  • Advocates say the “Day of Absence” effort helps increase social awareness, but critics call it divisive.
  • The small college closed in early June for three days because of a non-specific threat made through a 911 call. 
  • A man told the dispatch officer, “Yes, I am on my way to Evergreen [College] now with a .44 Magnum. I am going to execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of.”
  • The events garnered national attention. Scroll down for an expanded read on the college and recent activities.
  • Evergreen moved its venue for graduation in the wake of recent threats directed at the campus.
  • As Patriot Prayer’s event looms, the college closed its campus early on Thursday, June 15.

 

Why Evergreen College made national headlines 

Protests in mid-May started in response to campus police questioning black students, according to a report in the Cooper Point Journal, the college’s student newspaper.

Students said they were protesting institutional racism.

A group of protesters sent the following statement to The Olympian: “What started out as anti-black comments on social media has turned into the dismissal of the rights of students and femmes of color, physical violence by police, and false sentencing of students protesting. Black trans disabled students are actively being sought out and confronted by campus police constantly, police are refusing to explain their actions and harassment. Students will not stand for this anymore, as students of color have never felt comfortable on campus and have not been treated equally.”

Tensions reached a new high after the public airing of an email exchange between school employees over a planned Day of Absence event.

The Day of Absence, based on a play by the same name, dates back to the 1970s at Evergreen. The day is part of two days of race and equity-related events, and in previous years minority students voluntarily left for an off-campus discussion. 

This year that event was swapped: White students were asked to leave and minority students remained on campus. But the event had space for 200 students – only a fraction of the roughly 4,800 overall student body, college spokesman Zach Powers said.

Hundreds of students filed into the Library building at The Evergreen State College last week as part of a protest against the college's administration. Image: Tacoma News Tribune

Rashida Love, director of the First People’s Multicultural Advising Services program, sent an email asking for some white students to volunteer not to be on campus for the event, to leave the college more open for students of color, Powers said.

Professor Bret Weinstein then sent back an email saying that asking white students to stay off campus is an “act of oppression in and of itself,” the Journal reported.

Some students have since protested Weinstein, calling him racist and asking the administration to fire him. Videos circulated of protesters confronting Weinstein have shown tense and sometimes angry moments. Weinstein has gone on Fox News to talk about the controversy and penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Love's department released the following statement, along with email exchanges, in early June.

About the call that closed the school in early-June

Police released the threatening and chilling 911 call that closed The Evergreen State College for three days.

College President George Bridges closed campus after receiving the information from police about what they called a non-specific threat. KIRO 7 News obtained the audio. 

A man told the dispatch officer, “Yes, I am on my way to Evergreen [College] now with a .44 Magnum. I am going to execute as many people on that campus as I can get a hold of,” the man said. “You have that, what’s going on here, you communist scumbag?”

The call was made from an unknown telephone number to a regular business line at the Thurston County Communications Center, a college spokesman said.

Nearly 5,000 students and faculty were notified of the closure by an emergency text system and a campus-wide speaker system. So were parents, who were urged to collect their children at the college day care.

Buildings were searched and no one was determined to be an active threat.  

The school was technically on “suspended operations.” When asked about rumors of white supremacists calling in the threat, Vice President of College Relations Sandra Kaiser she did not know. 

Kaiser also said the school doesn’t know if the threat is connected to recent racial tensions on campus. 

“There’s nothing that I know of that connects these things directly, but of course, we live in troubled times, and you got to take public safety as a top priority for everybody,” Kaiser said.

Evergreen moved its commencement ceremony to Tacoma in the wake of the threats.