Slog reader Maria Martin believes the students occupying the Matteo Ricci college at Seattle University—demanding a less Eurocentric curriculum, a more diverse faculty, and the resignation of their dean, Jodi Kelly—have some valid concerns, but they're going about things all wrong. She e-mailed this response to our coverage:
I am a woman of color. I am a first generation college student; neither of my parents attended college nor did they graduate high school. I am the first in my family to attain a Master’s degree. I lived my entire life below the poverty line, struggling from week to week and never knowing if we’d be able to provide for our family. Growing up in poverty, I quickly learned that "things" can be taken from you. I readily acknowledged that their value can change overnight; clothes, shoes, car, and even our home. We lost our home my first year at Seattle University and I literally had nowhere to go when winter break of my freshman year fell upon me. By all statistical predictions, I should have dropped out and never ‘made it.’
I share this because more than most people who are privileged enough to attend Seattle University’s Matteo Ricci College (MRC) program, I have a deep personal understanding of what it means to be underprivileged; I am a member of multiple marginalized groups: I spent my entire life being a poor woman of color. It is because of these various circumstances and experiences that I chose to enter the field of education; education, the one asset that never decreases in value nor can it ever be taken from you. I spend every day of my life working for underserved and underrepresented youth residing in the White Center community of unincorporated Seattle. I see the consequences of white privilege, racism, sexism, and marginalization each and every day that I show up for work and I am actively seeking to make a difference. This passion inside me began in high school and was only further cultivated when I became a student at Seattle University’s MRC program. This is why I find the demands being made in regards to Dean Kelly and the changes to the college not only unreasonable, but very sadly misplaced.
First of all – and this is the less disturbing part of the demands – the reality is that European classic literature is a predominately white field of authors. Europe, in general, especially when talking about the classics, is predominately white males. Yes, this might well be ‘stuff that old racist and sexist white guys wrote down’ and if it’s not a curriculum you like, perhaps you should consider attending a university with a wider range of curriculum. I hear University of Washington offers a significant number of diverse majors with varying curriculum. The “Eurocentric curriculum” is an inherent part of the MRC and humanities curriculum; it has always been as such and quite frankly, I very much appreciate reading about ancient Greco-Roman cultures. If a vast majority of students have a problem with reading the classical literature of Plato, Socrates, and others, perhaps they should consider a different major altogether. Personally, I found the curriculum vital to my understanding of most of the other classes in which I enrolled at Seattle University.
As a former student and graduate of the Matteo Ricci program, I find this type of ‘demand’ to change the college and its curriculum disturbing and more importantly, I think the blame is completely displaced. These protesting students are calling for the college to recruit students of color and professors of color. I agree that this should continue to be a goal that all educational institutions strive to achieve. It is sad that my own students who attend the campus where I work in White Center have seen very few teachers who look like them in their lives. For example, our students, have seen on average 3 teachers of color out of their approximately 45-50 teachers in their public schooling careers. That’s about 7% of their teachers. We know that when there is diversity in leadership, students thrive.
With that said, it is not Seattle University’s and certainly not Dean Kelly’s fault for not hiring more professors of color or recruiting more students of color. This lack of diversity on both ends – professors and students – is part of a much deeper more systemic issue in our society. The majority of high school students who apply to, attend, and get accepted to colleges and 4 year universities are white – they are the larger population, so this is not surprising – even when accounting for proportionality, whites enroll in college at a much higher rate. Those white college students then become white professors. We have to fix public education and the systemic racism that is far beyond the reaches of Dean Kelly. Are we going blame her that so few minorities apply for the professor positions in the first place? Did she go around denying people of color the opportunity to teach or did they simply rarely apply? Should we point the figure at her because so few minority students are applying and attending 4 year universities? Is it her fault that the public education system is rigged against so many students of color and poverty?
Perhaps these students who are calling for her resignation should take a stroll down to where I work in White Center and try to change the course of my students’ lives and educational paths. Pointing the figure at the higher education system serves no one. The issues that these protesting students are addressing are valid and need to be spoken to, but they are asking the wrong institution and person to do so. It is time to look much deeper and change the scope of their complaints to the greater society that we live in. Because the lack of diversity that you’re seeing at Seattle University is only a symptom of a much deeper sickness that has infected this entire nation since its founding.