Seattle University sit-in protests curriculum, school culture

Seattle University students have occupied the Matteo Ricci College offices for a week, demanding the ouster of the college's dean. (Photo provided by the Matteo Ricci Coalition.)
Seattle University students have occupied the Matteo Ricci College offices for a week, demanding the ouster of the college’s dean. (Photo provided by the Matteo Ricci Coalition.)

Students of color at Seattle University have occupied the offices of the school’s Matteo Ricci College undergraduate program, demanding the removal of the college’s dean and a revamp of the college’s curriculum to be more aware of racial and diversity issues.

The students have been occupying the college since last Wednesday and say they will stay until their demands are met. The students and alumni of the university, who each have had their own experience with racism and oppression in the college, say they want the university to uphold their core values of “care, diversity, academic excellence and social justice.”

The sit-in started after a student said that college dean Jodi Kelly used the “n” word several times in a conversation. Kelly told The Stranger via email that she had been recommending that the student read social activist Dick Gregory’s autobiography which uses the “n” word in the book’s title.

But organizer Fiza Mohammad said on Tuesday that incident with the dean has not been the only example of how the college’s curriculum is insensitive to students of color.

“There has been a list of violations that had been given to certain members of the faculty, that include sexual assault, racism and violence that they have known for the past 10 years. People have gone to the same provost of the university for the past 10 years, and nothing has happened,” said Mohammad, a fourth year Humanities student at the college.

The MRC (Matteo Ricci Coalition), also says Jodi Kelly and professor Carol Kelly, who is in the running to be named associate dean, are “preventing the potential for radical change within the college.” The MRC is also demanding to know the qualifications to be dean of the university and want to make sure the running mates are also suitable for the position.

The sit-in started with approximately 30 people who stood in solidarity and more students have joined since, as well as people from the community in general. The press conference that was held on Tuesday, May 17 had a full house of students and faculty that supported them. The students that are occupying say they are willing to have dialogue and conversation with anyone that wants to know about their demands.

The MRC is also demanding a non-Eurocentric, interdisciplinary curricula, professors who are trained and experienced in critical race theory, class and gender analysis, classrooms that uphold the learning of students with historically marginalized identities, responsive curricula and have the college recruit and support a diverse student body while not tokenizing the bodies of students and professors of color.

In a letter posted to the Seattle University website, president Steven Sundborg apologized “for what has been the experience of some of our students when it comes to race, class, gender and disability in aspects of the university’s academic and social life,” and vowed to address the issues. But Sundborg also said that he would not accept the demand for a resignation of a faculty member, citing the university’s formal channels to handle grievances against faculty.

This was the first sit-in protest organized by the MRC.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected since its original publication to reflect that this was the first sit-in protest organized by the MRC. 

1 Comment

  1. “Kelly told The Stranger via email that she had been recommending that the student read social activist Dick Gregory’s autobiography which uses the “n” word in the book’s title.”

    So is it the activists’ position that the professor should have referred to the book title as “N-word: An Autobiography by Dick Gregory” rather than the actual title? These students are then behind censoring offensive words in literature in general? “To Kill a Mocking Bird” should thus be banned? The Norton Anthology of English Literature is out, too. So the way the activists believe they should be educated is through censorship of anything that might offend them? What a sad, sheltered world they want to live in. I value my liberal arts education for exactly the opposite reason – I was exposed to ideas and expression of all types, and encouraged to judge its value, its impact both good and bad, how ideas changed the mood of the country, changed our culture. Had I said “don’t speak about anything that I don’t agree with or find offensive!” I wouldn’t have learned much.

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