The Evergreen State College is known for its forest-enclosed campus, liberal arts education and freelance areas of study. However, it’s also cultivating a new reputation: that of a hub for LGBTQ individuals.
While the school has seen a large drop in enrollment since 2009, it also has seen a tremendous growth in the number of LGBTQ students: more than half of the student body identifies as LGBTQ or questioning.
“It’s not as if there was a plan to say, hey, how can we figure out how to become one of the leading national colleges for the LGBTQ population — no one sat down and did that,” said Greg Mullins, the library dean at Evergreen. “That happened over time, naturally, organically, and I think what that means is that this is a great place to come for people who are, no matter what their background is, it’s a welcoming environment to come to.”
The school has experienced about a 40 percent drop in enrollment over the past 10 years. A contributing factor was the controversy that arose in 2017 surrounding a campus event that a professor criticized for excluding white people.
Following the professor’s remarks, outrage erupted on campus and many students demanded his resignation. This sparked a debate about free speech on college campuses and landed Evergreen in the national spotlight.
However, as enrollment has decreased, the LGBTQ community has continued to grow over the last decade.
“You’re able to have your educational experience without a lot of noise or interference coming from the anxiety of what it may be to carry what we might call a marginalized identity,” Sandra Yannone said, a writing and literary professor at Evergreen. “Although, it doesn’t feel marginalized here. Myself as a member of the (LGBTQ) community, I’ve never felt part of a margin and I’ve felt that many other times in my life.”
The college formerly had a dorm reserved for members of the LGBTQ community, but has since transitioned to having all housing be gender inclusive.
Despite the significant growth of LGBTQ students, Evergreen has yet to be featured in any national indexes or lists of LGBTQ-friendly colleges. Officials say they are working to find new ways to support this community. They also have opened a Multicultural Trans and Queer Center to create a space on campus for LGBTQ students.
Correction: This version of the story reflects the correct spelling of Sandra Yannone's name.