Joining a wave of campus activism around the Seattle region against alleged racism, a group of students at Seattle University have begun an occupation of their college's front office, complete with pizza, pillows, and Beyonce's Lemonade album playing over speakers. They say they won't leave until Jodi Kelly, the dean of the humanities-focused Matteo Ricci college, resigns.
Fiza Mohammad, a 22-year-old senior majoring in humanities, said the tensions have been mounting for months for a couple of reasons.
First, racism and sexism are especially acute at Matteo Ricci because the humanities curriculum is based heavily on Western canon and European classic literature, i.e. stuff that old racist and sexist white guys wrote down, Mohammad said.
"I can count on one hand how many people of color I've read in the four years that I've been here," she said.
Second, there's a lack of diversity among the college's faculty. Only one out of nineteen faculty are non-white, according to the college's website.
Among the existing faculty, too many professors "do not know how to communicate about race," Mohammad said. "They call me aggressive and emotional." She said students had engaged with Kelly in private conversations about the issue, but Kelly said she was "afraid of the oppressed becoming the oppressor."
Kelly did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Three professors from the school, who happen to be white, corroborated some of the student concerns and seemed to have a cordial relationship with the occupiers sitting in the walkways that led to their offices. One would only say, "I support my students." Another said the college's Eurocentric curriculum is a big problem and needs to be changed. He said he was "generally favorable" toward the goals of the occupation. Another said simply, "They are living out our mission." They asked that I not use their names.
The students, calling themselves the MRC Coalition, seem to support the professors as well. Citing the college's Jesuit tradition and the Vatican Council's Pedro Arrupe, the coalition condemned the college's refusal to offer tenure or support collective bargaining for instructors in an open letter addressed to Kelly last month, published in the Seattle University student newspaper.
Kelly issued a two-paragraph statement on Tuesday responding to the coalition concerns. In it, she promised to conduct a comprehensive review of the curriculum by the end of the year, hire a consultant to assess the college's culture and climate, and implement "racial and cultural literacy training" for the faculty and staff.
That's not enough for the students, whose 2,600 word petition released Wednesday calls on the college to explicitly teach the history of oppression and social movements, "stop using the bodies of students of color to advertise diversity," host listening sessions before the spring quarter ends, and much more. The students want a curriculum which:
Decentralizes Whiteness and has a critical focus on the evolution of systems of oppression such as racism, capitalism, colonialism, etc., highlighting the art, histories, theologies, political philosophies, and socio-cultural transformation of Western and non-Western societies.
Mohammad said the occupation will go on until Kelly steps down. Judging by posts with the hashtag #DearDeanKelly, the students are settling in for their first night in the college office with blankets and plenty of reading material. In recent months, students at the University of Washington, Seattle Pacific University, and Western Washington University have launched similar campaigns.
This post has been updated since its original publication.