Evergreen State College closes after ‘direct threat to campus safety’

Everyone was asked to leave the Olympia campus or return to residence halls after someone called a local law-enforcement agency with a threat, the college said Thursday.

Evergreen State College has closed for the day because of a “direct threat to campus safety.”

Everyone was asked to leave the Olympia campus or return to residence halls for instructions, the college announced shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Evergreen officials had few details about the threat, which came from someone who called local law enforcement.

Spokesperson Sandra Kaiser said she didn’t know the specific nature of the threat, or whether it was made by someone with a connection to the college.

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“They thought it was credible enough that they referred it to us, and we made a quick decision” to close the campus, she said.

About 800 students live on Evergreen’s campus, according to Kaiser. She added that the campus was not on a lockdown, in which residents were being forced to remain inside.

The college hopes to reopen Friday for classes.

No other details were available — and it’s unclear whether the threat is connected to recent tension and protests over what students say is institutional racism at Evergreen.

As the evacuation got underway late Thursday morning, vehicles could be seen streaming away from the college down a winding, wooded road.

Into afternoon, officers with the Olympia Police Department and the Washington State Patrol managed a roadblock, waving off motorists trying to enter the college.

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One of those turned away was Shaianne Luebbe, who said she had come to pick up her young daughter from child care.

Luebbe didn’t have any details on the lockdown beyond the campus alert message, but said that she’d never experienced anything like this at Evergreen.

“I imagine that it’s serious,” she said.

The threat comes a week after hundreds of Evergreen students began protesting. The campus has experienced mounting racial tension that puts students of color at risk, a student group wrote in a news release last week.

Students cited several incidents, including alleged police assaults and an email from a professor who objected to the school’s “day of absence” in April.

In the past, students of color have left campus for one day to address racial issues, according to Evergreen. The event comes from Douglas Turner Ward’s play, where a town wakes up to find that all black residents have disappeared.

This year, however, the format was reversed, with the day-of-absence program designed for faculty, staff and students of color held on campus. The program focusing on anti-racism work from a white — or majority-culture — perspective was held off campus. Both programs were voluntary, Evergreen President George Bridges said in an interview Thursday.

Professor Bret Weinstein questioned the event in an email that was made later public.

“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 underappreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the recent Women’s Day walkout), and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away,” he wrote. “The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.”

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Students said Weinstein’s email was racist and called for his suspension. In a list of demands, posted in the Cooper Point Journal, students also called for firing a police officer and a college official. All three remain employed.

Weinstein wrote about his experiences in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed published Tuesday. He also appeared on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

In a statement sent Tuesday, Bridges said safety for all is a top priority.

“As members of the Evergreen community, we believe in the importance of open, inclusive and respectful dialogue,” he wrote. “Some events in the last few weeks may have been unsettling and painful to members of our campus family. I want to reassure the community that our values around equity and freedom of speech remain strong. I invite all to recommit to empathy, dignity, and respect.”

A Thurston County emergency dispatcher said that officers from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department, the Olympia Police Department and the WSP were at the campus Thursday to assist, but that the Evergreen State College Police Department was the lead agency responding.