Message to International Students

The Evergreen State College and the state of Washington extend a warm welcome to students from all over the world who seek to join our vibrant and unique learning community. 

Our international students enrich and inspire us with the different perspectives and experiences they bring to Evergreen. We treasure their contributions, and we would be diminished without their presence. 

As a Washington state baccalaureate institution, Evergreen shares a proud history of inclusivity, tolerance and compassion for all residents. Our diversity of people and cultures is essential to our identity as a college and state. 

That is why we have always welcomed, and will continue to welcome international students who are ready for the challenge, excellence and distinctiveness of an Evergreen education. 

Undocumented Students at Evergreen: Safe, Secure and Welcome

Since the November election, I have received many questions from members of the Evergreen community concerned about potential changes in federal immigration policy in 2017 and especially how those changes might affect students who are undocumented, who are covered under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, or who have family members in those situations.

I have joined with college presidents in Washington state and around the country in calling on the new administration to maintain the DACA program. There are many questions about the new administration’s plans and policies to which we don’t yet know the answers. We may have to live with this uncertainty for some time. But we can be certain about some things, and there are commitments we can make.

Undocumented students are welcome at Evergreen. This statement is more than rhetoric. Evergreen and the state of Washington have programs in place that enable qualified undocumented students to become eligible for in-state tuition. Although federal policy excludes undocumented students from federal financial aid programs, all students, regardless of immigration status, can apply for college and state financial aid (including the State Need Grant).

Prospective students applying to Evergreen are considered for admission without regard to their immigration status. We will continue to follow this admission practice.

We take seriously the privacy of student records. Any student record that might identify an undocumented student will be destroyed at the earliest allowable date, and will be treated with the highest level of confidentiality provided under law until that time.

Evergreen’s police officers do not and will not detain, question or arrest people solely because they lack documentation. Nor do our officers inquire about immigration status when they detain, question or otherwise interact with people. Olympia and Thurston County law enforcement officials follow the same practice.

Evergreen remains committed to providing a safe, secure and welcoming learning community that protects the privacy and human rights of all students. I am grateful to the students, staff, and faculty who have organized lectures, seminars and “know your rights” workshops.  Over the holiday break, we will create a website to collect and report information and local resources for undocumented students. In the meantime, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has published a community advisory regarding DACA.

These practices and related actions are often described as policies that provide sanctuary for students. I have chosen not to refer to Evergreen as a sanctuary because I believe doing so would convey a promise of legal protections for students that none of us can ultimately guarantee. Regardless, we will stand firm in supporting all of our students regardless of their immigration status to the fullest extent possible.

Remarks on the Equity Council’s Plan

Remarks delivered at the Equity Council Community Forum on November 16, 2016.

For many years, Evergreen has struggled to find a paradigm of teaching and learning that addresses the many differences in backgrounds, orientations and life experiences of our students. When I arrived at Evergreen a year ago, a group of faculty and staff talking about diversity and equity asked me to help improving the college’s work on these issues. As I become involved, I learned about inequities in the retention, persistence and graduation of many of our students, particularly those from underrepresented and underserved groups. It became clear that a council of dedicated faculty, staff and students would be needed to tackle the problem of equity gaps in our students’ experiences.  And late last spring, I established and charged what is now Evergreen’s Equity Council with developing a plan for institutional change – systemic change that would enable Evergreen to acknowledge and address equity gaps here and in Tacoma.

These gaps are not unique to Evergreen; they occur on almost every college and university campus. They are pervasive across the country and very problematic here at home.  The gaps reflect a failure by colleges and universities to adopt a student-centered approach to teaching and guided by a commitment to equity. I sincerely regret that egregious gaps exist for students at Evergreen. And students, on behalf of the college, I apologize to each of you for the ways in which you have experienced their effects. That this has happened and continues to happen is wrong and must be corrected.

The Equity Council has wisely chosen an ambitious goal for the college: developing a new paradigm for student learning and success at Evergreen that would, by its very nature, transform how we think about student success and how we invest college resources in ways that advance equity and inclusion. The Council’s plan offers a theory of institutional change, a set of compelling goals and a strong framework for improving the learning of all Evergreen students.

Nearly 30 years ago when I was a faculty member at UW, a colleague and I uncovered systematic evidence of institutionalized racism in the court system of Washington State – repeated instances in which African American youth were subjected to racially biased decisions by judges and court personnel. I was deeply shaken and angered by what I read in case file after case file of black youth accused of crimes and how our courts were treating them. My intense desire for change drove me to devote many years of my career to studying, fighting against, and eliminating racial inequities in Washington’s juvenile courts. Ultimately, laws were passed in the 1990s, progressive reforms were achieved, and racially biased decision-making was dramatically reduced in many areas of the state. And yet racial biases persist and undermine aspects of our justice system today. And I have come to understand that eliminating bias and inequity anywhere is a lifelong struggle everywhere.

At Evergreen, some members of the faculty and staff have toiled for years to reduce inequities experienced by students and to increase the success of our underrepresented and underserved students. Just as my colleague and I launched a campaign and fight against racial bias in our courts, today, we launch a new campaign to fight the systemic causes of inequities at Evergreen. At the heart of our campaign and the council’s plan are goals that place student learning at the center of all of our work, goals that aim to substantially improve the experiences of students and that close the equity gaps.

I call on all of us, both as individuals and collectively as a college community, to embrace this campaign, this struggle and these goals. By pursuing them we can remedy equity gaps across the college, increase the successes of our students, and strengthen Evergreen’s programs.

To be clear, the Council’s plan does not propose a one-and-done project. It enables us to embrace a new way of thinking about our mission, our culture and our work. And because we seek a culture of teaching and learning at Evergreen that will always be equity minded, our work in pursuing these goals will never end.

Our Mission

Evergreen has an abiding commitment to social justice. But how well are we walking the talk? How effectively are we pursuing social justice and equity on our campus, in our programs, in our services, in our everyday work and study? We must do better. Inequity anywhere and anytime at Evergreen, is a threat to equity everywhere and every time at Evergreen. It must be eliminated.

Our Culture

Ideals inspire our beliefs about this college and its mission. They are embodied in the five foci of learning and the six expectations of graduates. But we don’t always live up to our ideals do we? And for some of us this message is hard to hear and even harder to acknowledge.

For some students, their realities at Evergreen come pretty close to college’s ideals and they leave us inspired by the learning and growth they came to expect and enjoy. For many other students, however, their realities at Evergreen don’t even resemble the college’s ideals. These students leave us disaffected and disappointed and they believe that we have failed to deliver on the college’s ideals.

This divide in the experiences of our students is unacceptable. Without an institution-wide commitment to and creation of a culture of inquiry, grounded in equity, we will not close the divide. And some of our students, or perhaps many, won’t achieve their dreams of the education we promise them. And now more than ever we must deliver on this promise.

The Work

Our focus today is the Council’s goals that we must and will embrace. However, I would be remiss if I did not state that fully embracing these goals and integrating them into every aspect of our work will require taking concrete steps over many years. The goals cannot be achieved overnight or even over the course of a year. The work must become part of all that we do now and in the future.

For those of you who are seniors, I appreciate your patience with those of us working day-to-day to make Evergreen better. To those of you who are first-year first-time college students, I am confident that if we embrace these goals today and integrate them fully into the life of our campus, by the time you graduate you will have witnessed significant changes in our college and its culture. It will be a more equitable, supportive and welcoming campus.


In 1900, sociologist and race activist, W.E.B. DuBois wrote “The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, the relation of the darker to the lighter races in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.”

Now, 116 years later, we remain a society sharply divided not only on what DuBois referred as the “color line” but along many other lines. If we can create a more equitable and just community at Evergreen, our students will be the ones who work to close the divisions in our country and create a more equitable and just society.

Friends, the Council’s goals and our work together are critical to the success of students and the future of this college. We must engage this work. Therefore, I ask each of you join the Council and me in endorsing and embracing the Council’s plan for Evergreen and this critical commitment to all of our students.

After the Election: Reflection and Resources

Evergreen Students, Staff and Faculty,

Yesterday’s elections profoundly affect all of us. As we consider the many outcomes, our reactions may vary depending on the campaign in question and on our individual views and positions.  But the divisiveness of the political rhetoric over the past months has alienated and discouraged many, leaving individuals and entire groups feeling left out—of the electoral process, of political discourse, or even of the society. Many are likely to fear the future.

Together, we must consider what the role of an institution of higher learning should be on such a day.  A college is, of course, a place of learning where we have a responsibility to apply the tools of reasoned inquiry.  An understanding of history, the role of broad social and economic forces and the critical importance of interdisciplinary analysis are all needed.  In this way, each of us can reach a deeper understanding of the world in which we live, the causes and significance of seismic political events, and the actions required of us as individuals.

A college is also a community. This morning, it is more important than ever that Evergreen be an inclusive community.  Regardless of their beliefs, background or orientation, everyone at Evergreen has a place here.  More than ever, Evergreen must be a community in which we care for ourselves and each other.

With that support in mind, the college is offering a number of opportunities today to help people de-stress and navigate post-election implications, emotions and ways forward. See the schedule on Greener Commons (and the details below). I strongly encourage you to participate, for your benefit and for the benefit of others in our community.

More than ever, we must uphold our fundamental commitment to our values of civic engagement, civil dialogue, and constructive social change. Doing so will require advocates and participants. Evergreen can provide both if we act on our longstanding values embodied in our Social Contract of learning across and respecting differences and, as our Six Expectations describe, participating collaboratively and responsibly in our diverse society.

It’s possible that we will witness some backlash to various election outcomes. Unfortunately, such a backlash may adversely target some members of the Evergreen community and those in our wider community. Please join me in promoting respectful responses to discourage these activities.  I encourage us to seek constructive solutions to the challenges our country and our community face.

And by all means, let’s agree to come together, to support each other and find opportunities to promote the values and practices that strengthen us all.

Most sincerely,


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Creating welcoming learning environments for all students

The Seattle Times published an essay I wrote.

Why students need trigger warnings and safe places

The University of Chicago’s recent welcome to its incoming class wasn’t welcoming. The message, conveyed in a letter from the dean of students, revealed a profound indifference to concerns that many students now bring to colleges and universities.

Yet how colleges and universities respond to these concerns often proves critical to the success of students and to the freedom of faculty in educating an increasingly diverse student body.

The dean’s letter gave notice that the university rejects the value of warning students about material in some classes, presentations or debates that may prove offensive or psychologically harmful (so-called “trigger warnings”). The letter also informed new students that the university does not “condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

Either the university is completely tone deaf to the academic and developmental needs of many students or is launching its own counterattack on what it perceives as an unwarranted assault of political correctness on campus. Or both.

In each instance, trigger warnings can alert students to genuinely distressing content that could otherwise cripple their learning. Colleges and universities must change as the society changes. And unlike 10 to 20 years ago, schools must now acknowledge and address issues they have largely ignored in the past: sexual violence on campuses and its effects on student victims, the impact of war experiences on veterans returning to college and the mental-health challenges faced by increasing numbers of students.

Imagine a rape survivor entering a class in which sexual violence is the subject of academic debate or a veteran just returning from a combat assignment suffering from acute post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety or depression in a classroom where accounts of a war are disputed. These students can make critically important contributions to their classrooms, but if we refuse to acknowledge that they also have unique barriers to participating in that discussion, we send the message that they are not welcome.

As a lifelong educator, I have witnessed firsthand the negative impact that reliving personal trauma in a classroom can have on a student’s academic performance. Indifference to such traumas diminishes a student’s likelihood of success. A simple warning about troubling content acknowledges students’ unique personal circumstances, enables students to prepare and adapt if necessary and fosters a classroom climate focused on the student as a learner with unique capacities and assets.

Equally important are the demographic changes in our society over the past two decades. Many students attending colleges now are the first in their family to pursue postsecondary education. Others overcome enormous personal obstacles often related to family poverty just to get to college. These students and others often lack confidence in their capacity to succeed, believing that they don’t belong at a major college or university (the so-called “impostor syndrome”).

At The Evergreen State College, where I serve as president, 90 percent of our students belong to at least one group traditionally underserved by higher education: first-generation college students, low income, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities or students of nontraditional age. These students face personal challenges that many in previous generations didn’t. Many are reluctant to engage faculty and staff with questions or arguments out of fear of failure or rejection. They and their families have no experience in navigating college studies, debating academic issues and ideas or pursuing critical sources of financial aid.

Providing safe spaces for these students — that is, places and contexts in which they can reflect on and address these unfamiliar issues without fear of failure or rejection by others — proves critical to their success. As colleges and universities seek to increase rates of student retention and graduation, we must (and we are) creating these spaces.

In doing so, are we succumbing to the pressures of political correctness on campus? No. We are responding to the unique needs of many of our students solely for the purpose of increasing their academic and personal success.

Ironically, the University of Chicago’s welcoming message is, in itself, a trigger warning to students — the campus offers no safe spaces or warnings about potentially offensive or harmful content in its curricula or programs.