Women Allege Racism, Sexism At Evergreen State -- Diversity Remains An Elusive Goal, Critics Contend
The Evergreen State College ushers in a new president at a time when the college, historically known as a bastion for liberal thinking, faces increasing racism and sexism on campus, a group of minority women say.
Tuesday students and faculty members of color staged a Day of Absence. More than 100 students boycotted classes and met off campus to bring attention to what they call an unwelcoming climate.
"We've lost faith," said Diana Gonzalez, a member of the Women of Color Coalition and senior from New York.
Jane Jervis, who takes over as president Aug. 1, says she has a special empathy with those who are the few among many.
She was the first woman to hold senior administrative positions at two formerly all-male colleges and will be the first woman president at Evergreen.
Students cite several recent incidents in the reasoning behind their boycott:
-- In January, a white student threw a rock through the windshield of a car owned by a member of the Women of Color Coalition.
-- Before spring break, someone broke into the coalition office and rifled through files. In March, a frustrated coalition member put a sign on the office door saying, "If you are a white person, you are not allowed in this office, especially white males."
-- The sign provoked further tension when a white male student filed a grievance on the grounds that he wanted to become a member of the coalition.
-- One student asserts a professor made racially offensive remarks in class and lowered her grade when she complained.
Students of color make up 10 percent of the student body of 3,340. More than half of the students are women.
OFFERING AN ALTERNATIVE
Students and faculty members come to Evergreen seeking an alternative education, one that allows them to think and speak freely without discrimination.
"This doesn't propose to be the world, this proposes to be better than the world," said Tomoko Burke, coalition coordinator and junior from Hawaii. "It's worse than the world if you claim to be something that you're not."
The mission statement that guides the 21-year-old institution, says the college should be characterized by "a campus environment which celebrates diversity as a resource for learning."
"Our differences don't have to divide us. Why can't we celebrate our differences?" Gonzalez said. "As women of color, we don't feel safe on this campus."
Several women cited an older student who targets women, asking their ethnicity and whether they are going out with anyone.
He tried to kiss one woman and she slapped him, a student said. He tells foreign students that they have to kiss him because it is an American tradition.
Many women on campus say they are discouraged from reporting sexual harassment.
"We don't take it lightly," said Affirmative Action Officer Ermelindo Escobedo. "If the facts warrant, severe action is recommended."
The college is close to adopting a sexual-harassment policy. It has no racial-harassment policy.
"What makes it difficult in my opinion is that this institution has articulated the rhetoric of multiculturalism so then expectations are higher and collide with reality," said Eugene Fujimoto, Day of Absence coordinator.
"They prostitute our faces just to give themselves a better name and pat themselves on the back," Gonzalez said, referring to the administration.
"When I applied here and the students applied here, we saw Evergreen as being on the cutting edge. But there is no orientation provided for new staff on how they practice multiculturalism," said Tom Mercado, director of student activities, who came from the University of Washington.
"At Evergreen, we claim to be multicultural and we're not and we need to realize that," said Mark Winford, a senior from Alaska. "As a typical white male, you can easily say I am naive. I think that's the first step in crossing cultural barriers. At least I realized here that I had problems crossing those barriers."
Chin Galich, an Asian American junior from Texas, said he thinks the student catalog is misleading because it makes the school look like it is a multicultural campus when it is really predominantly white.
"There's a big problem with multicultural studies," Galich said. "In a black studies class, there's no black students or teachers."
Sandy Hanson, an Evergreen spokeswoman, says the college is nationally recognized for hiring minority faculty members. In 1987, people of color made up 11 percent of the faculty, she said. This year they're 22 percent.
Others also say the campus is not hostile to minorities.
"I've been on the campus for three years and I've never seen any incidents of racism. Even the sexism is a bit of a hype scene," said Bruce Rogers.
He said the sign put up by the Women of Color Coalition offended him, a white male. "They're being oppressive in themselves."
Jervis doesn't expect Evergreen will always live up to its multicultural goal. "We always fall short of what we stand for and if we don't, we don't have very good aspirations.
"But you have to be relentless and it's hard and it's lonely and you have to forgive and they have to be interested in forgiving, too.
"What I'm arguing for is that it's complex, it's messy. If it were simple, we wouldn't be struggling like this."