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Inside Olympia – The Evergreen State College

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Fifty years ago, the state of Washington embarked on what’s been called a grand experiment in higher education. That’s when The Evergreen State College opened its doors.

Nestled in the forest west of Olympia, the four-year public college eschewed grades and majors, instead encouraging students to design their own course of study. Then Governor Dan Evans, a Republican, signed the law that authorized Evergreen. He also later served as the college’s president.

Today Evergreen is celebrating its 50th anniversary and confronting challenges that will decide the course for its next 50 years. That includes working to turn around declining enrollment and undertaking an effort to update its curriculum with a focus on equity and diversity.

This comes just five years after the college became something of a harbinger for the current debate and movement in the United States over racial equity. It was in 2017 that the Evergreen State College was thrust into the national spotlight and became the focal point of protests after a biology professor, Bret Weinstein, protested a day of absence when white students and faculty were encouraged to remove themselves from campus.

Now the college has a new president and vice president who are leading efforts to make the college more inclusive and the curriculum more relevant for the times we’re in – while at the same time strategizing how to recruit the generation of Evergreen students.

Interim President John Carmichael is a long-time “greener,” having served in various capacities at the college for over two decades. He discusses the factors that have led enrollment at Evergreen to decline from a high of around 4,000 several years ago to 2,000 today, and how the college intends to turn that around – including a new focus on older students.

Executive Vice President Dexter Gordon is a newcomer to the school. He brings to Evergreen a national reputation for his work on equity and inclusion and curriculum reform, as the founding director of the Race and Pedagogy Institute at the University of Puget Sound, where he also served as director of the African American Studies Program, and professor of communication studies. He talks about what he says are key selling points for an Evergreen education in today’s world.

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