SEATTLE – Seattle University student Zeena Rivera is sick and tired of reading the classics by “dead white dudes.”
“When am I going to start reading writers from China, from Africa, from South America?” the Filipino student groaned to The Seattle Times. “The only thing they’re teaching us is dead white dudes.”
Rivera is among a group of minority students at Seattle University’s Matteo Ricci College who took over the lobby of the school’s administration building over perceived discrimination in the curriculum. Students contend they’ve read enough of Plato and Aristotle, and want professors to use materials from writers who share their social justice mindset.
“They set up a shrine I the center of the lobby with a pile of books they said they want the Matteo Ricci curriculum to contain,” the Times reports. “It includes books on Buddhism, the civil-rights movement, feminist theory, social movements, poverty, mass incarceration, alternative views of American history.”
The student temper tantrum has been ongoing for a week, and the “MRC Student Coalition” that took over the college’s administrative offices refuses to leave until its demands for a “non-Eurocentric, interdisciplinary” curriculum are met, including the resignation of Matteo Ricci dean Jodi Kelly.
“Our demand has always been a liberatory education,” senior Fiza Mohammad told Capitol Hill Seattle. “We are truly hungry for a decolonized, transformative education.”
Others were more explicit in their remarks, alleging Kelly is a racist who “personally perpetuates much of the violence embedded within MRC,” according to a very, very long petition on iPetitions.com that’s currently about half way to its goal of 2,000 signatures.
Over the last week, students have taped over the administrative building’s signs with the message “Occupied by the MRC Coalition.” They’ve held workshops and led marches through campus while occupying the Casey Building in rotating shifts of 15 to 20 students.
Organizers contend Kelly’s resignation is critical to their cause, and students are prepared to hold the administrative building through the end of the school year to force the issue.
— Comrade Vitaly (@comradevitaly) May 12, 2016
Kelly contends students provided a list of demands April 26 and she quickly addressed their concerns by vowing a comprehensive review of the curriculum, to hire consultants to evaluate the school’s culture and climate, and to provide cultural literacy training for staff, according to the Times.
She’s refused to resign, and Seattle University President Stephen Sundborg has so far stood by her side.
“Making demands is contrary to everything that we teach and what we espouse as a community of learners,” Kelly told the Times in an email. “What kind of model would that be going forward?”
Sundborg sent out a campus-wide email over the weekend that spoke to students’ “pain” while pointing out that there’s better ways to address their issues than hijacking a school building.
“I cannot pretend to know how deep their pain goes, the amount of harm it has caused or the extent of our own shortcomings as educators and administrators,” he wrote. “What I do know is that these are serious issues and the way to address them is to work together in a spirit of empathy, solidarity, openness and cooperation.”
Sundborg released another statement Monday to address a letter from students to him that was also distributed around the school that describes Kelly as “our racist dean.”
“I have made it clear that the university will not accept the demand for the resignation of an academic leader,” he wrote. “We have shared the proper established channels for bringing complaints and other concerns forward so they can be addressed in a way that respects the rights of all.”
He then apologized to the demanding students.
“As president of Seattle University, I sincerely apologize on my behalf and on behalf of the University 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.”