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Western Washington University: The surprising new right-wing target

The president of Western Washington University is trying to increase diversity on campus. Why that's making him the center of a lot of negative attention.
Western Washington University senior Taina Tremblay talks about ideas to improve diversity on campus during a gathering Tuesday of students, faculty and staff to address white-supremacy posters on campus as well as the broader theme of diversity.  ​

Western Washington University senior Taina Tremblay talks about ideas to improve diversity on campus during a gathering Tuesday of students, faculty and staff to address white-supremacy posters on campus as well as the broader theme of diversity. ​ Hannah Leone

Western Washington University.

Western Washington University. Photo: Flickr user camknows

The library at Western Washington University.

The library at Western Washington University. Photo: Flickr user Jasperdo

Bruce Shepard

Bruce Shepard Hannah Leone

Northern California in the late 20th century wasn’t a nesting ground for diversity. In fact, most people in the all-white neighborhood Bruce Shepard grew up in reacted downright negatively toward it.

He remembers when the first Italian family moved in, and “For Sale” signs cropped up on the lawns of some nearby homes. Then the first Japanese family. More signs.

Each time new neighbors moved in, Shepard’s father marched him and his brother across the street or down the block to shake hands and extend a warm welcome.

The Western Washington University president said that he was raised to promote diversity in his community. It’s a mission he has carried with him throughout his jobs in higher education and a goal he believes Western’s students and faculty support. Since he started at Western in 2008, he has repeatedly asked what the Bellingham, Wash. liberal arts university can do to make sure that, in future years, Western is not as white as it is today.

Most recently, he asked the question again in a March 18th post on Western Today, the school's online communications publication. The title: “Six questions on the future of Western.”

The question itself, however, isn’t what made national morning news last week or finally got the majority of Western students -- and more tha a few others not affiliated with the university -- talking about Western's diversity goals.

On April 15th, Campusreform.org published an article about Shepard's blog post, headlined “University calls the amount of white people on campus a ‘failure,’ asks for ideas on how to have fewer.” Criticism of Shepard and Western Washington University poured, blogged and tweeted in. Parents of high school students asserted that they would never send their children to a “racist” university like Western. Some Western students expressed horror and asked for Shepard to be fired.

Embedded in the campusreform.org article was a clip from a speech Shepard gave in 2012: “Every year, from this stage and at this time, you have heard me say that, if in decades ahead, we are as white as we are today, we will have failed as a university in our commitment to meet the critical needs of our state,” he said in the video. 

But the article, and many others, cut off the quote and paraphrased it with lines such as, “President Shepard equates a ‘white’ student body and faculty to ‘failure.’” Backlash on Twitter has included accusations of racism. White supremacist posters have cropped up on Western’s campus, equating diversity with “white genocide.” Widespread criticism has focused not on Western seeking racial diversity, but more specifically on the school trying to be “not as white.”

Shepard says such statements are gross misrepresentations of his actual words, which he intended to be provocative, but not in any way anti-white. He doesn’t want fewer white students, he says, but to attract more students of color to match increasing diversity in Washington state and its high schools. 

In response to the criticisms of Shepard, even more students, staff and faculty have come out in defense of him and the university’s values. The chair of the university’s Board of Trustees and the dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences have each sent mass emails in the name of Western’s commitment to diversity. About 100 to 150 people attended a student-led meeting on Tuesday in direct response to the white supremacist posters, to brainstorm ways to address the hateful messages and promote and define diversity at Western.

Although the recent controversy has heavily focused on racial diversity, the conversation it has sparked is more broadly about diversity’s many facets. DiversityIsWWU is now both a hashtag and a Twitter handle. At 1 p.m. Monday, a “Diversity Is” rally will march across Western’s campus to “show how hate at Western is unacceptable, not welcome, and will not be tolerated.” These are just the short-term steps the Western community is taking in response to a question Shepard has been asking for years, but that it took media-perpetuated controversy to address.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 6:50 a.m. Inappropriate

"Each time new neighbors moved in, Shepard’s father marched him and his brother across the street or down the block to shake hands and extend a warm welcome."

Going across to shake hands with your new, non-white neighbors is fine, admirable, neighborly. What he wants to do is go over to his white neighbors and tell them to get lost. Big difference.

Simon

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

I wasn't aware I could be any more proud of my alma mater than I already am. Thanks, Pres. Shepard, for making me even more proud.

I completely understand and support your comments, even if people like Simon and Glen Beck can't comprehend why a university's racial mix should mirror the racial mix in feeder high schools.

David Miller
Class of 1990

ddmiller

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 7:58 a.m. Inappropriate

"I completely understand and support your comments, even if people like Simon and Glen Beck can't comprehend why a university's racial mix should mirror the racial mix in feeder high schools."

Since Asian students are over represented in WA state universities, will you insist the schools reduce their numbers?

Simon

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

WWU has an admissions department...right? If they have a lack of diverse applicants, perhaps the unversity needs to look within. Or perhaps they have been selecting students based on quality rather than pigment.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

So let me get this straight: The president of a taxpayer-funded four-year college says his student population is too white but it's the right wing that's the problem? For a website that touts itself rather loudly as a bastion of critical thinking, that's something not much found in pieces like this.

Even so, this article is actually informative to me personally as I actively eliminate sources of aggravation from my life this week (goodbye FOX News, Free Speech TV, et al), and Crosscut just made that list. Tolerance is great when it isn't a one-way street...you guys should try it sometime. Just for the hell of it.

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 9:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Boy, have these comments been taken and twisted out of context.

The WWU president looks at the census data - the population of WA, and the US as a whole, is getting less white. Shouldn't the goal of society in general be to educate some proportion of it's citizens? So if, at some point in the not-too-distant future the population of WA is 40% white, but our colleges are 90% white - this guy thinks his college would not be doing it's job in attracingt a wider racial/ethnic range.

Seems pretty straight-forward to me.

Lily32

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Both the conservative radio idiots and Crosscut paraphrased Shepard’s comments. In reading the complete comment forwarded to me by a friend, my biggest concern is that President Shepard is an inarticulate fool. Who speaks without thinking of how his words can and will be interpreted. I can see how both sides can use his words to stir things up, and he is the President of a University? Obviously, he did not get a degree in either English or Communication. If he did, it must have been a mail-order degree. I have no disagreement with his basic intent. He forgets that the primary color of his university is green, for all students. That is the green of a dollar bill.

All staff and faculty should take a cut in pay so students without enough green could attend.

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

"So if, at some point in the not-too-distant future the population of WA is 40% white, but our colleges are 90% white - this guy thinks his college would not be doing it's job in attracingt a wider racial/ethnic range."

Nice straw man there. I don't have a problem with diversity, we have plenty of Asian kids in our colleges too, and they over-represent their numbers in the WA state population. Would you also suggest we need fewer Asians at our colleges as well? If Asians make up 7% of WA state population but 12% of students, should we be talking about having fewer Asians?

Simon

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 11:23 a.m. Inappropriate

Talk about strawmen.

Lily32

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 11:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice to see that Washington, as represented by Crosscut commentators, is on cue with the rest of the country.

Amaliada

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I remember when arriving in Bellingham Back in 1970 thinking that WWU was the most lily-white school I had ever seen. It didn't even have any black basketball players. Swear to God! Nothing but slow, lumbering blonde farm kids from up around Lynden and Everson. And fifties throwback coach rah-rah Chuck Randall blowing his whistle and chasing them around in a futile effort to make them move faster. I was amazed. It felt like falling into some sort of time machine.

But outside parts of Seattle and Tacoma, the Northwest has always been short on racial diversity. And romanticizing the noble Native American is a rather recent innovation. It wasn't too long ago in Ballard that "racial integration" meant a Finn had moved into a Norwegian neighborhood.

woofer

Posted Sun, Apr 27, 9:46 p.m. Inappropriate

I believe either you never went to Western or forgot anything you learned there. In 1970 it was still WWSC; Western Washington State College. I did not become WWU I believe until the late 80s. In 1970 it was considered one of the premier party schools on the west coast.

Posted Fri, Apr 25, 2:03 p.m. Inappropriate

I think I just read that WWU is about 78% white and that Washington State as a whole is about 78% white.
Are my figures wrong?

Posted Sat, Apr 26, 11:35 a.m. Inappropriate

No, your figures are not wrong. Wikipedia has the "white" population of Washington State at 77.3%. Western Washington University (on its website) lists white enrollment at 76.2% and "All students of color" as 21.3% of enrollment. Those figures were omitted from the article for the likely reason that, if included, it would have made Mr. Shepard's stated concerns seem more like political posturing and lend some support to his "right wing" critics.

kieth

Posted Sat, Apr 26, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Political posturing? Here? No! That would be shocking!

I think that the problem starts with the WWU President by (as I think he does) including Asian students as part of "non-white". And from what I understand, Asian students are far more than their % of the general population.

I think the President might have said something like
"Our population of Afro-Americans in Washington State is X%. And the percentage of Afro-American students at WWU is substantially less than X%. And we need to do something about that "then I guess a lot of people would say "Yup I think he is right."

Posted Wed, Apr 30, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

“Diversity” means chasing down the Last White Person.

"Diversity" is a code word for White GENOCIDE.

seapeamp

Posted Sat, May 3, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

If what the WWU president was trying to say was he hopes that the school will get an equal percentage of the demographic change now being mandated in our society, then that is understandable.

But he should have been careful about being quoted that the university is "too white." And he should maybe do a little self-analysis about why the word "diversity" has now similar societal connotations as "freedom" or "liberty." That these are abstractions that fuel societal thinking, action, and manipulativeness.

One reason the word became an ideal was because some decades ago our societal money/power interests bought into the idea that the best way to maximize growth was to maximize population growth, and the avenue to that was opening our borders to all countries in the world in the mid 19960s, and selling America as the land of opportunity while burnishing the tales of streets being lined with gold. Plus it helped sell capitalism by providing many lures to people who could be identified as "escaping communism" during the Cold War.

Consequently we have had a policy of not enforcing laws and illegal and legal immigration constitutes about 90 percent of our population growth since 1970. It is confirmed by fact that Obama wants to legalize this by calling it "immigration reform" mainly because he expects the new demography to be particularly favorable for Democrats, especially with passage of this law.

But what Obama and money/power ignores is the impacts and costs of absorbing many millions of people per year, and the WWU president's rhetoric makes clear that adjusting to the change takes priority over assessing the impacts of it.

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