The Evergreen State College's Tacoma Program holds first day of classes as an official part of the college on September 26, 1983.

  • By Tera Williams
  • Posted 3/13/2019
  • Essay 20740

On September 26, 1983, The Evergreen State College's Tacoma Program holds the first day of classes as an official part of The Evergreen State College. This first day follows the Council for Post-Secondary Education's approval in 1982 of the college's recognition of the Tacoma Outreach Program as an official campus of Evergreen State College. The program had its beginning in 1972, when founder Maxine Mimms (b. 1928) overheard some justifiably frustrated residents of Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood complaining about access issues with Evergreen's main campus in Olympia. Mimms, a black professor at Evergreen, started Evergreen's Tacoma campus to address the unequal access to higher education for black working adults in Tacoma's inner city. The program is officially incorporated into The Evergreen State College for the 1983 school year. It will go on to become an anchor institution and gathering place in the Hilltop neighborhood.

Evergreen Tacoma Origin

The Evergreen State College's Tacoma campus came about because Mimms understood the Olympia campus could not meet the needs of Tacoma's black students, largely because of its distance from their homes. Mimms lived in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood and could see the barriers black Tacomans experienced in accessing higher education programs. Mimms, who had previously worked at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., had recently returned to Washington state and started teaching at Evergreen State College.

Mimms later remembered, after realizing that the Olympia campus would be mostly inaccessible to people in the black community, deciding that she "was not going to come from Washington, D.C., and being in the south and participate in education that was totally white oriented ... I just said no. So I started in my kitchen teaching black students and went from there" (Eisenbacher, 6-7). Mimms, along with her neighbor and coworker Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Diffendal, offered classes in her home through Evergreen as a Tacoma seminar group. Within Evergreen, a seminar group was a group of students who looked at the material individually, then came together as a group to discuss it, bringing their own individual worldviews to the table.

In the beginning, the program operated in several locations. For the first four years, from 1972 to 1976, the program used space in Mimms's and Diffendal's homes. As more students enrolled, their kitchen tables were no longer large enough to accommodate everyone. Between 1975 and 1981, the program jumped from one location to another as numbers swelled. The program met at the Tacoma Urban League from 1975 to 1978, The Puyallup Tribal Center from 1978 to 1979, Tacoma Community House from 1979 to 1980, The Colored Women's Clubhouse in 1980, and the Tacoma Opportunities Industrialization Center in 1981.

Making It Official

In 1982, the Council for Post-Secondary Education recognized the Tacoma Seminar as an official campus of The Evergreen State College and Mimms was named as director. Occurring before the state's creation of official branch campuses of large universities throughout the state, the Evergreen expansion into Tacoma existed in new territory. The campus was recognized by Evergreen as an official "off-campus program center" for the 1983 school year ("Catalog 1983-84," 70). On September 26 of that year, the Tacoma campus held its first day of classes as an official Evergreen program center.

Before that first day of classes as an official campus, the program was either handled through independent contracts or posed as an Olympia program that just happened to be using Tacoma as its setting. For the first 15 years, Mimms had financed the program herself. Operating this way was an intentional strategy to get the Tacoma program established so it would flourish before being susceptible to outside influence. In 1984, the program was officially included in the Evergreen budget. Being officially recognized by Evergreen and the state required that Evergreen Tacoma downsize from a four-year program to an upper-division program for only juniors and seniors. State officials did not want to fund both Evergreen and Tacoma Community College providing lower-division coursework in such a small geographic area. They felt that Evergreen Tacoma would pull students away from Tacoma Community College if both offered lower-division coursework.

With all of the changes, the campus moved to a more permanent building. The new campus, located at K Street and S 12th Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Earnest S. Brazill Street), was home to the program for the next 18 years. Mimms stayed on as director of the program for the first eight years in the new location. In 1990, she retired and handed the campus down to her protege, Dr. Wintonnette Joye Hardiman (b. 1944).

Evergreen Tacoma Framework

Mimms loved the fact that social justice was central to the curriculum of Evergreen. Its interdisciplinary, intersectional approach to curriculum allowed for a deeper level of understanding in the classroom. Professors were able to think about their subject areas more creatively and learn about the subject areas of others. Students had more freedom within their learning and more tools and information with which to problem-solve in the classroom. Evergreen had no tests and no grades. Instead, instructors provided written evaluations at the end of each semester. Most classes were part of interdisciplinary, team-taught programs, even going so far as to complete math homework in groups. Mimms felt that for black adult learners, the curriculum and teaching framework needed to be expanded to address their unique needs.

While founding Evergreen Tacoma, Mimms was also working to complete her Ph.D. The two processes informed each other and created the underlying framework for Evergreen's Tacoma campus. The Tacoma Seminar served as more than just an additional seminar group beyond the ones available in Olympia -- the group was Mimms's dissertation research in action. Her framework for the campus built upon the experimental liberal-arts framework of the Olympia campus and tailored it to be culturally relevant for black adult learners. Mimms reworked the way liberal arts were taught to fit the needs of the population she was trying to reach.

In her dissertation, Mimms laid out her plan for the pedagogy at Evergreen Tacoma in the form of five impactful and pervasive ideas that intersected to create the teaching strategy. Those points were:

"The need to understand the psychological impact of their own history that causes them to observe themselves and internalize the blame for which they were not historically responsible,
"The need to understand the people they are afraid of – something of their history and psyche,
"The need to develop group identification as they begin to internalize the blame so they can effectively use their own political clout,
"The need to recognize the limitations of a B.A. degree; that is, earning a B.A. degree without understanding the content of the curriculum is dangerous, and earning a B.A. is no guarantee of intellectual growth; and,
"The need to recognize that within their own community there are people who think like Plato, paint like Picasso, and meditate like Buddha" (Washington, 28).

Mimms prioritized having black professors for the campus, but relied upon white professors, who she referred to as "placeholders," to educate the students until black professors up to her standards could be found. This helped students to grow in an environment in which they were already comfortable. Mimms used events and issues in the community and in people's lives to supplement and guide the curriculum. The Evergreen Tacoma Program centered around a process called "Lyceum." This process consisted of a presentation followed by "give back" and concluded with a discussion about the presentation and the weekly reading in smaller seminar groups. The entire campus attended Lyceum in morning or afternoon sessions. The "give back" process followed presentations in the Lyceum Hall. The audience gave the presenter a round of applause followed by positive feedback. This was meant both to convey how much the presentation meant to the students and staff and to build a culture of community into the framework of the program. Mimms saw the value in giving people who have not traditionally received applause an opportunity to have their genius recognized.

While modeled after the Olympia campus's pedagogy, the way that Evergreen Tacoma instituted learning communities was very different. For example, while the Olympia campus had multiple programs, Evergreen Tacoma had only one. This developed a different type of community cohesiveness, interdependence, and collaboration than typical for Olympia campus programs. The program themes changed every year but always centered around the intersections of community development with leadership, transformation, and sustainability. Students engaged in a year-long research project in teams. Each quarter was designed to build on the work of the last. The teams presented their research at Spring Fair, essentially a science fair for community-centered research, held at the end of the academic year.

Evergreen Tacoma's culture also differed from that of the Olympia campus. While the overarching Evergreen motto is "Omnia Extares" ("Let It All Hang Out" in Latin), the Tacoma campus adopted a motto of "Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve." Evergreen's mascot is a geoduck, but the Tacoma campus prominently featured the Adinkra symbol of Sankofa as its logo instead. The Sankofa bird symbolized the "importance of learning from the past" (Williams). The program was aimed at working adults, and they were required to be enrolled fulltime. Evergreen's Tacoma Program was very intentionally designed to serve and reflect the population of the Hilltop neighborhood.

Evergreen Tacoma Legacy

Continued growth necessitated that the campus move yet again in 2000. The new campus, located at 6th Avenue and South M Street, was originally constructed in 1974 for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and occupied an entire city block. The building was remodeled and an addition was added before the campus occupied the space. The interior of the new building was modeled after temples in Kemet, now known as Egypt, that functioned as both libraries and universities. It was designed anthropomorphically. Joye Hardiman described the common area as "the womb of the campus," the practice of Lyceum as "a ritual of the heart," and the professor's offices and support services around the perimeter of the Lyceum hall as "arms wrapped around the heart represent[ing] the ever-presence of the nurturance of the environment" (Washington, 56).

The summer after occupying the building, the campus received a Paul Allen Foundation grant for the creation of an exterior building mural. South African Ndebele artists came to the community and lived there for a month. During that time, they completed the mural -- the Ndebele Wallpainting Project -- and taught the community about their history, inspiration, craft, and insight into communicating with symbols. The mural represents the values of the Tacoma program and it established a sense of ownership of the space and encouragement of creativity that had not historically been embraced for the Hilltop community.

The Tacoma campus was the first college in the area to focus its pedagogy toward black students. It was committed to the success of black adult learners and the success of the neighborhood. Mimms believed that stimulating and motivating individuals would have the same benefits for the community around them. With more than 2,700 degrees granted to date, the impact of the Tacoma campus of The Evergreen State College is beyond measure. In November 2015, Evergreen purchased the Tacoma campus building it had rented for 14 years, showcasing to the community that Evergreen Tacoma was here to stay. In 2018, the Lyceum Hall, which Hardiman referred to as the "womb of the campus," was renamed the Dr. Maxine Mimms & Dr. W. Joye Hardiman Lyceum Hall in their honor.


Anya Kamenetz, "This College for Adult Learners Is a Refuge, Not Just a Career Boost," July 4, 2018, NPR website accessed January 19, 2019 (; "Catalog 1983-84," The Evergreen State College website accessed February 17, 2019 (; "Evergreen: Making History Since 1967," The Evergreen State College website accessed January 19, 2019 (; "Program History," The Evergreen State College website accessed January 15, 2019 (; Jean MacDonald, "Sankofa," West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings website accessed November 17, 2018 (; Kim Elaine Washington, "The Legacy of Two African American Women in College Administration: Maxine Buie Mimms and Wintonnette Joye Hardiman: A Look Back to Go Forward" (Ph.D. diss., Oregon State University, October 30, 2008); Lois Elfman, "Unconventional Approach Propels Evergreen State College," July 20, 2016, Diverse Issues in Higher Education (; Lori Larson, "Maxine Mimms: 'My Life is Education,'" Washington Secretary of State website accessed March 4, 2019 (; "Recent Sales Activity for 2006240034" Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer website accessed January 28, 2019 (; Robin Eisenbacher, "An Interview with Dr. Maxine Mimms Ph. D.: Building a Learning Community in Tacoma's Hilltop Neighborhood," May 7, 2014, Tacoma Community History Project, chp2014-04, University of Washington Libraries, Tacoma, Washington; "1210 Sixth Ave, Tacoma," Tacoma Public Library Tacoma-Pierce County Buildings Index accessed January 29, 2019 (; Tera Williams, "Black in the City: Equity-Centered Community Design in Tacoma's Hilltop" (master's thesis, Boston Architectural College, December 21, 2018), 63-65.

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