Some Things That Evergreen Could Not Take Away

Student on a field trip at Sun Lakes, in eastern Washington

One year ago, I found myself suddenly having to vacate my office of 15 years. Bret Weinstein had to do the same thing. The college gave us less than 72 hours. My science library is mostly boxed up, even now. I am told that, on some corners of campus, when our resignations were announced, there were tears, and shock. Bret and I had offered to help turn Evergreen’s reputation around, to help make it a bastion of truth and actual inclusivity, of Enlightenment values. The college wanted no part of that. They said, through a mediator, that they were quite pleased with how things were going.

During one of my midnight office clearing sessions, I realized that I was about to lose access not just to everything electronic of mine that lived on Evergreen’s servers, but access to those students whom I wasn’t already, separately, in touch with. So I wrote a letter, and sent it to every program that I had taught at Evergreen, going back to the Fall of 2002, expecting less than half of my former students’ email addresses to still be active, but hoping that I would reach at least some of them. And I did. I received so many wonderful responses. I also received one hateful one. Just one.

Here is the letter that I sent, followed by one of those wonderful responses, reprinted here with permission from its author.

September 13, 2017

Dear former students of mine at Evergreen,

Please excuse the mass email. I am writing to past students — many of whom I have heard from individually already in these past few months — to let you know a few things. Reaching out across space and time, in that tentacled way that modernity allows, and tapping you all on the shoulder. Remember when?

I am about to lose access to my Evergreen email, indeed, access to all that Evergreen is. When that happens, I will lose contact information for most of you. So I’m writing now, quickly, in boilerplate, to whole classes that haven’t been living, learning communities for many years.

Our learning communities were flawed, weren’t they, but they were rich. We had real disagreement, and discussion, and we learned, all of us. We also, usually, built trust. I am devastated to find your alma mater, the college that I have loved and called home for so many years, acting in bad faith, dismantling trust, shutting down dissent. I am, by turns, heart-broken and livid, and feel deeply betrayed by the college. But I have not regretted the work that I did there. It was worth it. You were worth it.

I loved being an Evergreen professor, in part, because it allowed for deep, personal connections with so many amazing, unique people. Perhaps you are skeptical — for one thing, you and 25–75 other people are reading these identical words, and that’s not counting all the other programs I’m writing to with the same words…but it’s true.

I have long held that the low bar that should be set for Evergreen faculty is that they a) fundamentally respect students as real human beings and b) have something real to offer, know something true about the universe. Apparently, it’s harder than it seems. It takes real time to have actual compassion for the differences that make us human, and the differences that reveal us as individuals — our varied developmental histories, our wounds and scars, our triumphs and confidences. And it takes some of the same compassion to not descend into tribalism, in which we judge each other on the basis of demographics.

Tonight I found myself having to clear my office, quickly, before my keys are taken away, and I found so many amazing reminders of you. The hand-written notes; the Dr. Pirandello doll; the water-colors and pen-and-ink and wood cuts and other amazing art; the molas from Panama; the picture of six of you, whom I will not name here, doing animal behavior, beautifully, while rowing on a lake in the San Juans. I was moved to tears. Most of you know me well enough to know, or at least imagine, that I am not easily moved to tears. I still believe in the Evergreen model, and I know that it has served so many people so very well. Many of us have been enriched by the opportunity to learn in unexpected ways in community, in the field, in the classroom, in the lab, late at night after everyone else has gone to bed and there are just two of us, five of us, eight of us, talking, over a wooden table, or a fire, or a game of cribbage, or a guitar, in the Amazon, in Bocas, on the Oregon coast, in Sun Lakes.

If you want to be in touch with me…(particulars of ways to contact me omitted here)

I have fifteen years of Evergreen students whom I look back on so fondly, with gratitude and respect. Truly. Thank you for being among them.

-Heather Heying

your former professor

now, believe it or not, on twitter @HeatherEHeying

And Dan Visser, a former Marine, now a high school biology teacher, whom I had on my very first study abroad trip, in Panama, wrote back this:

It’s 6:30 in the morning here in rural Colorado. I just drove by miles of cornfields to get to work this morning. The sun was coming up on another day and lightly touching their tassels. They’re just beginning their downfall after the growing season. Today something beautiful has died. There was a lone, abandoned barn in the distance silhouetted waxing light. Tears were streaming down my face. They are now as I sit in an empty classroom preparing for the day. Something very, very beautiful has died in the world indeed. I just want you to know that I was with you this morning as I read your words. My love and thoughts are with you and Bret. You are on my heart and mind. I’m sitting with this, as well as your personal email, till the words find me. I just wanted to reach out right now, in this moment and let you know that you are loved by people in the world. Thank you, thank you, thank you beyond what I can convey. None of this beauty around me, that is now my life, would have been possible without you. The humanistic heart behind only one year of your science touched me in ways that four years in the Marine Corps could never scratch the surface upon.
All of my best to you. . .
Dan AB&Z 2008–2009

My students at Evergreen were not the out-of-control snowflakes who were memorialized on video, and caricatured in the press. They did not deserve any of this.

Students around a campfire at Moran State Park on Orcas Island, San Juan Islands

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