A dean at Seattle University has been placed on leave by school administrators, becoming the victim of a three-week occupation of her office by student activists.
Students at Matteo Ricci College (a school at the university focused on liberal arts and the Western canon) first began occupying the college’s front office three weeks ago, demanding that the school acquiesce to a list of ambitious demands. Many of these demands dealt with the school’s curriculum, which they denounced as full of “dead white dudes” and in dire need of racial and sexual diversification.
But the activists, who dubbed themselves the MRC Student Coalition, demanded more than just academic changes: The occupiers also said they would not end their sit-in until Kelly either resigned or was fired. They offered a variety of justifications for this demand, but one incident in particular captured media attention. One of the occupiers complained that in 2015, while visiting Kelly’s office, Kelly had recommended she read “Nigger,” the autobiography of civil rights activist Dick Gregory. Kelly apparently said the book’s title multiple times when recommending the book, which left the student so mentally traumatized she had to skip class.
Dick Gregory himself wrote an essay last week telling students to stop savaging Kelly, and many others stepped forward to defend her as well. Activists refused to back down and the occupation continued seemingly without end. (RELATED: Promises Of Arrest Quickly End Ohio State Occupation)
For three weeks, the school stood up to the protesters, with President Stephen Sundborg saying the school was willing to look at its curriculum, but that demanding Kelly get ousted was simply unacceptable.
Now, though, Sundborg has completely changed his position, announcing Wednesday that Kelly was being suspended while the school investigated a variety of alleged offenses.
“Interim Provost Dullea indicated he took this step based on information that came forward over the past several weeks and his belief that successful operations of the college at this time require Dean Kelly step away from day-to-day management and oversight,” Sundborg wrote in a statement to the school community. It’s unclear what new “information” caused administrators to suddenly turn on Kelly after weeks spent defending her.
Sundborg also offered strong praise for the activists he had spent weeks pushing back against.
“Social justice—a cornerstone of our Jesuit education—is necessarily messy and unpleasant at times,” he said. “We invite our students to be engaged citizens and to seek equitable and just solutions—and should not feel discomfited when they do. Seattle University will be a better university as we move forward because of our students’ willingness to take a stand they believe in passionately.”
MRC wasted no time in celebrating its triumph over the administration.
“This is a win,” the group said in a statement on Facebook. They vowed that this victory was only the beginning of their work, though.
“We are encouraged to see movement in the right direction, but there remains much more work to be done,” MRC said. “The challenging and creative work of reimagining culture and curriculum can now begin.”
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