by Katie Porter

It’s finally happened.

The teaching of identity politics has caused Evergreen State College in Washington State to erupt in chaos. Last week, students called for a ‘slight change’ in the way that their annual “Day of Absence” would run.

Usually at the very progressive Evergreen State College, a day is held in May when minority groups leave campus to discuss diversity and race in America. This year, however, the school changed it and asked only white students to leave the campus for the day. This was said to be a voluntary day, but when some white students and faculty refused to leave, protests erupted, mainly from African American students on campus.

Protestors cornered faculty and the school’s president and shouted racist remarks such as “Whiteness is the most f—ing violent system to ever breathe.” The school cancelled classes for three days because someone called the school threatening to shoot white students.

“You Taught Us This!”

At Evergreen, identity politics reigns king. Identity politics is a way of thinking about groups in society by categorizing them not based on party preference, but by characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, etc. It supports the idea that those parts of a person’s identity are what matters most in their success in life or lack thereof. From this mindset springs policies aimed at ‘leveling the playing field.’

Evergreen claims that the tensions on campus erupted because white students and faculty were not being respectful to the idea of diversity and racism in the US, but when Evergreen’s campus and policies are looked at more deeply, it becomes clear that identity politics are the root of the racism and hostility on campus.

Last winter, the campus’s Equity Council, comprised of both students and faculty, created a campus wide equity proposal. In referring to the proposal, Sarah Eltantawi, a professor of comparative religion at Evergreen, said, “The students have been making requests that are pretty reasonable….”

The ‘pretty reasonable requests’ in the proposal include asking the school to, in regards to hiring new faculty, “give priority to those who can represent and/or serve (in a variety of ways) one or more under-served student populations.”

Essentially, the Equity Council wanted new hires to be chosen based not on their merits, but on the quality of diversity they bring to the campus. In other words, they argue that factors such as race should be valued over qualifications like educational achievement.

In addition, students are indoctrinated in the classroom by teachings of identity politics. While the college, like most, has an extensive Women’s Studies and African American studies programs, even subjects such as science are not spared from identity politics. Of the 58 classes offered in the biology department, about one-fifth had to do with race, gender, or inequality of some type.

For example, a part of the description for a class called Feminist Epistemologies: Critical Approaches to Biology and Psychology says: “How is knowledge generated from a feminist theoretical perspective? Looking closely at the history of science and the construction of gender in biology, we will explore feminist interventions into knowledge production in these fields.”  Such as course only indoctrinates students to see institutional injustice everywhere they look.

Perhaps the most poignant example that the school is now reaping what they sow was what happened at a faculty awards ceremony. Students barged in and demanded that the professors take their side. One unnamed protestor reportedly asked their professors,

“Didn’t you educate us on how to do s—t like this? It was you that taught us that in class… You taught us to go and change the world. Ain’t that what you all sell on that state college page? To when s—t is wrong that we should try to change it? So why you all in here eating cake and chewing?”

The protestor has a point.

Evergreen’s Painful Lesson

Evergreen obviously believes that it needs to help “even out the playing field.” Many students and faculty might argue that there are inevitable growing pains involved in creating more equity, like tension between races. But I would argue that identity politics has only bad consequences. The teachings at Evergreen, the equity proposal, and the racist ‘Day of Absence’ all categorize students based on their race or gender. It pushes people in society further apart; it doesn’t bring them together.

It is dehumanizing to label someone solely based on an uncontrollable physical aspect. People are more complex than simply their race or gender, and most want to be valued for their whole self.

In addition to being divisive, identity politics is incredibly disheartening. It makes students feel as though there is nothing that they can personally do to improve their lives and achieve their dreams. Yet it is the accumulated individual personal actions that ultimately define a person’s life. People who view their success as being in their hands are much more likely to be happy and successful. Students at Evergreen, and at colleges across the nation, should be taught that the power within themselves is enough to overcome any obstacle. If they want to realize their life’s dream, they must achieve it for themselves.

I am not arguing for a race-blind society. I don’t think we will ever achieve that, and I don’t think we should. Everyone should be able to be proud of their skin color without it being viewed as antagonistic to another race. However, our society will continue to be racist as long as people are divided and chosen for roles specifically because of their skin color.

Evergreen may bear the consequences of its misguided teaching. The college is about 300 students short of the mandated enrollment minimum, and its funding is in jeopardy due to legislation that would privatize the school.

I guess few really want to go to a school when they think their future is in others’ hands.

Katie Porter is a 2017 CBLPI Summer Fellow.