One or more students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia will receive sanctions for drawing an offensive cartoon and slipping it under another student’s door.
The incident occurred at about 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at a campus dormitory. Two students, one African-American and one Jewish, were in the latter’s room discussing anti-Semitism, a topic in class earlier that day. Because the window was open, their conversation was overheard by upstairs residents, one of whom penned a cartoon with images of a seated black man facing a Jewish man standing next to a bucket of money. In the background was depicted a white man hanging from a gallows or tree, and a sitting figure lamenting “I wish I wasn’t born a Palestinian.”
According to the campus police report of the incident, a friend of the student who drew the picture “stated that they were listening to [the] conversation and that his friend just started drawing about things that were going on and [the Jewish and African-American students] were saying.”
The police report also said that the upstairs students considered speaking to the other students, but instead drew the cartoon and slid it, unsigned, under their downstairs neighbor’s door.
Both recipients of the drawing were disturbed by the picture, and the Jewish student immediately summoned campus security. When the officer arrived, one of the upstairs students came down, admitted that his friend had drawn the picture and said that he wanted to straighten the matter out.
He also said that the cartoon was not intended to be malicious but was “a political satire” on the overheard discussion. He believed that one of the speakers had stated “some facts that were totally incorrect about racism,” according to the investigating officer’s report.
The incident was referred to the campus grievance officer, Joe Tougas, for sanctions, as well as to Thurston County prosecuting attorney Ed Holm’s office for possible criminal prosecution as a hate crime.
Reached by telephone on May 7, Holm said that although the incident had characteristics of a racially motivated offense, “It appears not to have the necessary elements [to prosecute] at this point.”
Tougas, the faculty member who adjudicates violations of the student code of conduct, stated that he could not discuss details of the case because such matters are considered part of students’ academic records, which are protected by confidentiality laws. He said that he would recommend sanctions, which violators of the student code usually accept, although they have the option of appealing to a hearing board for a final decision.
“The purpose of the campus grievance system at Evergreen,” Tougas explained, “is to take a situation where obviously there’s something that’s gone wrong in the community — there’s some symptom of an underlying problem — [and] to see if there’s a way that the people who were directly involved in that can be responsible for healing…and restoring what has been damaged and what has been lost.
Art Costantino, Evergreen’s vice president for student affairs, questioned the student who drew the cartoon about the meaning of the imagery. The student told him the cartoon referred to rap impresario Sean “Puffy” Combs, whom the students downstairs were discussing. The figure hanging from the gallows or tree was a “lynched” white America.
“The college is concerned that the two students received a drawing that was very painful to them and included stereotypical and negative imagery,” Costantino said. While the college encourages dialog about challenging subjects, “dialog requires that you know who you’re communicating with. And so the fact that [the cartoon] was delivered anonymously, and the content of it, is what makes it problematic from the college’s point of view,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Jewish student who received the cartoon produced a flier, including the offending cartoon, to show that “there’s this preconception that here on The Evergreen State College Campus, because of the extreme liberal views, that issues such as racism, sexism, any of the -isms, are not prevalent here,” he said.
“My motives behind the flier were to bring light to the issue, not the [cartoon] incident itself,” he continued. He said that the flier was posted on doors and bulletin boards in the dormitory area: “I wanted to make it well known that racism is here.”
However, he purposely did not put his name on it because it would have been easy to identify his upstairs neighbor, the student who drew the cartoon. Since college regulations prohibit the posting of anonymous notices, all the fliers were removed.
In an article titled “Prejudice Dealt with Superficially: Anti-Semitism, Racism a Problem at Evergreen” in the May 10 issue of Cooper Point Journal, the Evergreen State College newspaper, reporter Whitney Kvasager wrote: “Evergreen exudes the aroma of a safe haven, because campus groups like Evergreen Queer Alliance and Uprooting Racism host speakers each quarter who talk about racism, discrimination, sexism, and homophobia.
“Problem is, going to those events allows people to let themselves off the hook,” Kvasager observed.
Brian Goldberg, executive director of the Pacific Northwest office of the Anti-Defamation League, indicated that some Evergreen students use the college’s liberal atmosphere and reputation to justify behavior that would be unacceptable in wider society.
“I think that it’s important to note here that this [cartoon incident] happened and that it can happen even at a progressive and liberal institution, and that there was an attempt by the administration, I believe, to downplay this initially,” Goldberg said in a telephone interview. “I think that it’s important that the school send a clear and decisive message that bigotry, racism, prejudice, intimidation—of any kind, from any source—is not going to be tolerated or accepted.
“Unfortunately,” Goldberg added, “I’m not sure that message has gotten out.”