For the past week, a group of Seattle University students have been occupying a campus building home to offices of the Matteo Ricci College to demand the ouster of the college’s dean and a more diverse atmosphere at the school.
Students say dean Jodi Kelly is an impediment to the radical changes they want to see at the humanities-focused college, which include creating a “non-Eurocentric, interdisciplinary” curriculum and more diverse faculty. The university’s president has rejected the calls for Kelly to be removed from her position. On Tuesday students and faculty packed into the occupied Casey building to hear from organizers of the Matteo Ricci College Student Coalition.
“Our demand has always been a liberatory education,” said Fiza Mohammad, a senior at Seattle U. “We are truly hungry for a decolonized, transformative education.”
Mohammad said she and other students enrolled to the college under false pretenses and that they want the university and college to live up to its promotional materials. The group has vowed to continue occupying the building day and night until its demands are met. So far, the university has allowed the students to stay in the Casey common space. Offices in the building remain open.
— Comrade Vitaly (@comradevitaly) May 12, 2016
The coalition, which is organized primarily by women of color, has also accused Kelly of being a racist.
“Dean Kelly personally perpetuates much of the violence embedded within MRC. This has been reported, emphasized, and driven home by students, staff, faculty, and alumni,” said a recent statement from the group. A lengthy petition outlining the MRC Student Coalition demands has received over 1,000 signatures. Students have been giving regular updates on their activities via social media using #DearDeanKelly.
Seattle University president Stephen V. Sundborg said in a statement that he rejected the calls for Kelly to be fired, but said the university would work in the other ways to address student concerns.
In a letter addressed to me as president and distributed widely to the university I found certain language, especially the words “our racist dean,” when referring to Dean Jodi Kelly, runs counter to our values of respect and dialogue and to the Code of Student Conduct. I ask that we avoid treating anyone in our community this way. I have made it clear that the university will not accept the demand for the resignation of an academic leader. We have shared the proper established channels for bringing complaints and other concerns forward so that they can be addressed in a way that respects the rights of all. The policies and procedures we have in place are the best way to address complaints and grievances. I have also made clear that the university, in keeping with our policies, does not intend to publicly respond to personnel matters.
The students have brought forth other significant concerns relating to curriculum, climate and cultural competency within Matteo Ricci College. We have outlined specific measures we will take to address these with the professional insights of external consultants and the active involvement and participation of concerned individuals. These are the essential principles for the best way forward.
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. I hope my apology is embraced and accepted as intended. We have taken a number of steps to address these concerns, from forming the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence to conducting a climate survey. We know there is more work to do and are moving forward deliberately on the recommendations of the task force in order to realize our ideals and aspirations.
The Seattle U occupation joins a wave of student activism targeting administrators around the nation and has attracted some national attention. Members of the Southern Poverty Law Center and City Council member Kshama Sawant recently spoke to students inside the occupied building .