Many journalists maintain an outdated idea that, to be an effective reporter, you must be impartial, disinterested and emotionally detached. But, as President Obama said during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, “Taking a stand on behalf of what is true does not require you shedding your objectivity. In fact, it is the essence of good journalism. It affirms the idea that the only way we can build consensus, the only way that we can move forward as a country, the only way we can help the world mend itself is by agreeing on a baseline of facts when it comes to the challenges that confront us all.” It is without any hesitation that I express my full support for the Matteo Ricci College Student Coalition and their demands.
The MRC Student Coalition wants a complete overhaul of the currently Eurocentric curriculum and the immediate resignation of MRC Dean Jodi Kelly. While the incorporation of these changes might require intense work, the ideas behind them are not idealistic or utopian; rather, they are rooted in a need for accountability and an honest, almost desperate, desire for learning.
Students and alumni have come forward saying that Matteo Ricci College has not equipped them with the skills necessary to engage in critical consciousness and to live in a world full of racism, sexism, power, privilege, and oppression. To want these skills is a reasonable desire, and I too want the ability to discuss them intelligently. The Coalition has said this previously but it is worth mentioning again: they do not feel like Matteo Ricci College is preparing leaders for a “just and humane world.” Instead, students feel silenced in the classroom and discouraged to engage with difficult subjects. This is not an issue of student’s disliking a school’s mission and wanting to change it—a mission of preparing leaders for a just and humane world is exactly what they want—this is an issue of accountability. The coalition and their allies believe that Matteo Ricci College has misled them and failed to live up to its mission statement.
Since the Matteo Ricci College Student Coalition began their sit in one week ago, I have heard many narratives projected onto the group. People in our community and others who know of this action through social media have painted the Coalition as a mob of bigots, racists, idealists and even terrorists. I was blindsided by these characterizations, especially when I became the subject of the same harassment simply for tweeting about the events. When some hear about the Coalition’s desire to have a non-Eurocentric curriculum that centers people of color, queer folks, trans folks, differently abled folks and women of color, they incorrectly assume that means the Coalition is attacking white students and professors—that is a gross misunderstanding of the Coalition’s intentions. This is not just about making changes for people of color; there are white MRC students who are hungry for this liberatory education as well. Lifting up the voices of those most marginalized in society is good for the education of all people—yes, even white students and professors. It is a principle also well understood by journalists in the way we approach our stories.
The other side of this issue that must of course be discussed is the demand for the immediate resignation of Dean Kelly. While I am not an MRC student, I fully support this clause based on the countless testimonials I’ve heard from students and faculty explaining their feelings of being silenced and fear of pursuing academic freedom. If people have expressed feelings of such intense fear because of an individual then we must stand with these people and recognize their pain. Provost for Academic Achievement, Charles Lawrence, himself spoke to this point during a meeting with core coalition members and Administrators last Friday.
He has heard students say “that they have not had academic freedom.”
“I have also heard from MRC faculty over two years, but especially in the last three months, that they have not had academic freedom. To put it simply, people are afraid,” Lawrence said. “If some of the faculty within MRC had that freedom, I don’t think we would be here today.” Deep systemic changes are clearly needed within the college, and that could be understood just by knowing these facts: In its 41 years of existence, the Matteo Ricci College has never conducted an external program review, something that is required for almost all colleges on Seattle U’s campus every seven years. Additionally, students, faculty and staff have expressed virtually the same concerns for the last decade to previous MRC Dean Fisher and possibly even longer before that. It is completely unacceptable that these injustices have gone on for this long.
I know that many people, of all varying identities—white people, people of color, queer folks and differently abled folks—might not agree with the coalition and even maintain that the coalition has hurt them in some way. My experience with the coalition is that they are inclusive, welcoming, and ready to engage in dialogue, but I will never deny that if someone has experienced pain from an interaction, then that is their experience. Pain is nonnegotiable. But I feel that the ongoing difficulty for different groups to understand each other further illustrates a need for a dramatic shift in culture and curriculum, so that people can learn how to engage each other on difficult subjects in a productive way. An institution that aims to create leaders for a “just and humane world,” should be equipping everyone with those skills.
I feel that the reaction from administrators and from our President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, S.J. has been incredibly disheartening and embarrassing for our institution. His remarks that this movement sets up some sort of “opposition,” maintains the common narrative of women of color that they are emotional and hostile. His statement that the group’s labeling of Dean Kelly as “racist” is not in the spirit of respect reveals an increasingly condescending attitude towards the coalition. That a white person in a position of power tries to set the tone and language surrounding how students, particularly students of color, can discuss race, reinforces white supremacy on our campus.
It is impossible for me to stand idle while so many people on our campus are hurting in the same ways that I am hurting in this society, and in so many other ways that I could never possibly comprehend. Recognition of their pain should be enough for every person on our campus to be in solidarity with these students.
Members of the MRC Student Coalition, this institution has failed you. This institution has failed us.
I do not accept this school’s empty apologies and neither should you. We should only accept change.
While I am not objective on this subject, the Spectator as a publication remains neutral in the spirit of fair and balanced reporting. I have distanced myself from the writing of certain pieces on this edition and trust the skills of my staff to report on this complex subject. The reporting I have done on this subject has been minimal; I am involved in conducting interviews, gathering sources, writing down facts for the timeline, and engaging in conversations with my editorial board. My staff and are I outspoken in keeping ourselves and each other accountable and ethical.
—Melissa Lin, Editor in Chief