Seattle University has announced it is adding attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver to its faculty roster this spring to teach the school’s young would-be lawyers a course on “police and prison abolition.”
Don’t worry if you’re hopeful Oliver might make another bid for the Seattle mayor’s office — Seattle U’s policies won’t preclude the Seattle University School of Law adjunct faculty member making a 2021 run for city hall.
Oliver declined to comment on the 2021 race. “When the time is right, I will answer questions related to a mayoral campaign,” Oliver said.
All candidates for the 2021 election must file by the week of May 17th,
“Laws were not created in a vacuum of objectivity and justice. They were created within the social and historical context of the society and country in which we live,” Oliver says about the new course in the school’s announcement. “A country, which at its root, is white supremacist, patriarchal, and classist. These oppressive roots have infected the entire tree and its fruits teach us that the law and justice are not the same thing.”
The Seattle U announcement describes abolition as “an unusual concept to teach in law school.”
“The concept of abolition is rooted in the early 19th century movement to abolish chattel slavery in the United States,” it reads. “In a modern context, it has come to include abolition of what many civil rights leaders see as the current, evolved version of slavery – the criminal punishment system, including mass incarceration and the death penalty.”
Seattle U says the 30-person course will cover abolition history, theory, and practice with racial justice “a prominent theme of the course, since prison incarceration disproportionately affects Black, brown, and indigenous communities, as well as queer and trans communities of color.”
Oliver’s addition comes as Seattle U has been occasionally targeted in recent months by anti-police protest and property damage. The school maintains close ties with the Seattle Police Department including the annual survey process collecting neighborhood perceptions on public safety run by Seattle University’s Crime & Justice Research Center.
Oliver, meanwhile, helped form the Seattle Peoples Party and represented the group running for mayor in 2017. Oliver missed out in the top two primary and watched as Jenny Durkan defeated Cary Moon to win the seat. Oliver has continued to lead opposition to efforts like the new youth jail and became a leading voice this summer as Black Lives Matter protests called for defunding the city’s police department. Still, Mayor Durkan left Oliver and other defund leaders like representatives of King County Equity Now off the roster of those invited to be part of her Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force, a group Durkan’s office said would “spearhead a community-led process” to allocate “a historic $100 million new investment in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities” and “address the deep disparities caused by systemic racism and institutionalized oppression.”
CHS asked Seattle U about any limitations their newest faculty member might face in the new job if an Oliver for Mayor campaign is launched.
School officials responded with a copy of Seattle U’s “Policy on Political Campaign Activities” which appears not to prohibit school faculty and staff from mounting political campaigns. “Faculty,staff, Trustees and volunteers are prohibited from using University resources to engage in political activities in support of, or in opposition to, a political candidate or ballot initiative,” a portion of the policy reads, meaning Oliver can’t use the school’s email, for example, for a political campaign. But a faculty member’s own time and resources? Those are fair game. “Faculty and staff may engage in political activities during their own personal time and with their own personal resources,” the policy document reads.
Durkan’s announcement that she will not seek reelection after finishing her single term this year has thrown 2021 Seattle politics wide open with both of the council’s citywide positions and the mayor’s office up for grabs.
So far when it comes to the mayor’s desk, Seattle’s biggest political names are waiting on the sidelines.
HELP KEEP CHS 'PAY WHAT YOU CAN' FOR EVERYONE -- SUBSCRIBE TODAY! Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment.