Voices Of The Pacific Northwest: VISITING A LIBERAL COLLEGE

When you think about regions of the US, you consider their weather, terrain, cities, and population. And somewhere in there, politics usually enters the picture. And when thinking of the Pacific Northwest, politics usually means liberal or Progressive or the “left” side of the ideological spectrum.

This is especially so when considering an institution already known for its left bend–regardless of its location in the country. This institution is: the American college.

I didn’t think I’d encounter a more politically polarizing place on my journey through the Pacific Northwest than when visiting The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. For this isn’t just any college, or even just any college in this liberal part of the country. This is the kind of place where they don’t give out grades or have majors, where egalitarianism is the desired result–not just the desired opportunity, and where dissension to liberal ideals is rare. Yet in today’s climate of college unrest, it’s also where political chaos recently ensued.

Worthy of its own story (or even series), I’ll provide this link if you’d like to start looking more into the events and actions there this past spring and summer. For now, I’ll sum it up:

In the spring, students on campus organized a day where white students and staff were not to arrive, as a way to recognize racial injustice. One professor took exception to this idea and attended to teach his class. So several students interrupted this professor’s class and confronted him. This was recorded and put on the internet, which got the attention of Fox News. The professor’s appearance on a Fox News show got the attention of outsiders–as did the school Dean’s listening session, where demonstrating students berated him. Outside writers and viewers criticized the school, which upset other students and staff at the college. It snowballed to students occupying the campus, a man calling the school with a gun threat, classes being cancelled for a couple of days, this professor suing the college for over $3 million, and the school now facing a $2 million budget shortfall.

In a time of aggressive protests and escalating tensions on colleges around the US, this one may have taken the cake.

So when I arrived in July, I expected some radical people to cross my path and share their voices. But life didn’t offer them to me. Instead, I spoke to two women–a black student and a Native American staff member–who hardly brought up the recent turmoil. No different than my other conversations, these two shared about their lives, the issues that matter to them, and their views of the world. Yet their experiences, perspectives, and thoughts did stand out from all my other interviews.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that despite the growing concern over colleges becoming evermore radicalized and narrow, that even at this openly-liberal campus, I encountered these two open minds and open hearts.

***

Meet Jalissa.

I had the pleasure to do so at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington July 11. I met her in the library, where she was studying for her summer classes.

“I’m getting my elementary education endorsement, with hopes to continue on to the Masters in Teaching program,” she shared.

Once she graduates, she said she and her boyfriend want to move to Portland.

“We still want to be in the Pacific Northwest. We love it here,” Jalissa stated.

“Why?”

“What I most appreciate about it is the nature.”

“There’s natural beauty all over the US,” I responded. “What else is it about the Pacific Northwest?”

“The people here are widely accepting of all walks of life,” she answered.

Jalissa then pointed out her being a black woman and expressed gratitude for experiencing “very little occurrences” regarding her identity.

“It makes my life a lot better,” she declared.

A Progressive culture is a big part of what makes The Evergreen State College unique–some might say to a fault as recent events have put this small school in the middle of peaceful nature into the chaos of America’s partisan media. But though the central issue of all this activity has been race, Jalissa hasn’t gotten too wrapped up in the drama.

“Being black, it will always affect me. But I just try to…” she paused. “I’m selective with battles.”

Thank you, Jalissa, for offering yours to the many #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest.

Look for our upcoming video interview–including Jalissa’s thoughts on President Trump and her interactions with her white boyfriend’s conservative Kansas parents–on The Periphery YouTube channel.

***

Meet Laura Grabhorn.

Laura was my second interview at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. I met her while walking back to my car and needing help with directions. (The appropriately-named school is tucked way back in a forest.) After meeting, she, too, was happy to talk about her life.

I asked Laura to share on camera her name and where we were at the time. She didn’t mention the school.

“Salish country,” she said, indicating the Native Americans indigenous to this part of the US. “On Medicine Creek Treaty lands.”

Laura works at the college’s Longhouse Education and Cultural Center.

“We’re the first longhouse built on a US college campus,” she said. “We support indigenous arts and culture.”

Some pictures of art inside:

Laura continued: “Washington has 29 federally-recognized tribes.”

Laura herself is of Alaskan indigenous descent, her mother having come down to the continental US at the hands of US President Dwight Eisenhower’s assimilation policy.

“How do you look back on such policies,” I asked.

“I don’t think it was well-meaning,” she replied.

Offensive, too, she explained. The Native Americans were asked to assimilate like immigrants.

That said, she acknowledged the challenges of living on reservations. Yet Laura sees these as problems to be solved from within.

We discussed the challenges of living between two worlds, what she thinks of the future of our planet, and what the rest of America can learn from often-overlooked Native wisdom. Thank you, Laura Grabhorn, for contributing yours to the many #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest. I look forward to sharing our video interview soon on The Periphery YouTube.

***

I’ve begun releasing my video conversations from the Pacific Northwest. Go to my YouTube channel to see a Portland pot user, a Hmong Portlander, and a politically-independent Portlander. Stay tuned for more interviews soon and for my next article from my journey–next time from Vancouver, Canada! 

What say you?