Op-Ed From MRC Student Coalition Member: “I was Smitten”

When I first visited Seattle University, admissions told me to look into the Humanities for Leadership program. I wanted to understand people and their actions by studying the intersections of philosophy, politics, history, gender, public policy, and so much more. The major seemed to have everything that I wanted and more. I was smitten with not having to take the University’s Core Curriculum, specializing in whatever I chose, and having multiple internships throughout my undergraduate career.

 It took me a long time (too long) to realize that this major was far from what I wanted, needed, or deserved. This delayed reaction was in part because of MRC’s elitist attitude. A self-proclaimed “experimental” college, MRC has positioned itself as existing beyond the purview and constraints of the rest of the university.
In my mind, the college was revolutionary while the university was antiquated.

The next two years were defined by my desire to achieve Matteo Ricci’s standard of elite academia, study and cultivate leadership skills, and excel in rigorous classroom environments where the professors demanded our very best.

I fully believed that professors made students cry so they could realize the gravity and importance of the curriculum and the classroom. I believed that the sexually and racially charged jokes and comments, light years behind the benchmark for ‘political correctness’, could be excused because these professors were gifted and brilliant. I believed that people who did not succeed in the major were not trying hard enough.

At first, I believed that the classical and Eurocentric curriculum was the most important. When I started to feel that the classes were missing something, I told myself that the classics were the building blocks and the most rich and pertinent classes were still to come.

When I saw people that I love be emotionally drained and mentally disconnected from our classes, my heart broke. All of my fervent denial started to fester and turn into wariness, frustration, and outright disbelief. What were we studying? Why did professors treat their students like this? How hard would it be to take a global approach to humanities and leadership studies? What year were we in—1916 or 2016?

As stated earlier, the Matteo Ricci core replaces the University core curriculum (UCOR). Although this is marketed as one of MRC’s strengths, it essentially strips away the promise of a liberal arts education and binds the humanities students to their college. For the most part, the humanities core classes don’t equally transfer to the University core. If a student decided to transfer out of Matteo Ricci after their sophomore year to pursue another major, they would have to start most of their core requirements from scratch.

At a deeper level, the core fails to prepare students for today’s world. The core does not engage philosophical discourses on critical race theory (Lorde, bell, Mills, Bonilla-Silva, Leonardo), global decolonizing methodology (Tuhiwai Smith, Fanon, Said) or queer and trans studies (Butler, Smith, Cohen, Muñoz), making any future coursework in leadership and teaching studies exceptionally shallow.

For my major-specific classes, we studied more of the same. Thucydides and Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke, Dante and Goethe. We leapt straight from the Western-European classics into normative organizational culture and theory. We took Discernment classes that emphasized an individualistic sense of choice and autonomy for all students, regardless of social identity. Other sources for leadership theory came from books written by white men in the Harvard Business School, a theatre class, and a public speaking course in which the professor told a student of color from San Jose that her style of speaking was “too urban.”

By now, claiming that this curriculum was damaging, erasing, boring, and insignificant should not be hard to believe.

Students have voiced concern about classroom climate and curricula centering the white, male narratives since at least 2006. In my experience, many professors and administrators respond by claiming that the quarter system is simply too short to cover everything, or that academic texts from the “rest of the world” do not exist in quantity or quality from these time periods.

The flaws of Matteo Ricci College are incredibly clear when analyzed by this quote from C.W. Mills, an esteemed Jamaican-American philosopher and social theorist. Mills developed a theory called the Racial Contract, a much needed refocusing of Locke’s social contract. Mills claims that humans have been raised in a highly racialized society with specific rules of engagement. Cited in Zeus Leonardo’s The Souls of White Folks, Mills writes:
Thus on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.

As Mills explains, white people will go to incredible ends to justify not talking about race. How does one explain water to a fish? How do we teach educated white people about white education? How many students evaluations do we write and meetings do we have and testimonies do we share before our professors and administrators realize that they are fallible?

I am a white woman, and this whitewashed curriculum damages me. I am wary that my experience post-graduation will reveal the friction between our broken world and the education I never received. Like an open sore, I will feel it smart and sting every time it is exposed to a reactive element, reminding me that it has not healed.

I often find myself dreaming of what this education could have been and wondering if newer students will benefit from the classroom conversations and texts that are yet to come. I maintain, perhaps naively so, that the culture, climate, curriculum and relationships within Matteo Ricci can lead to liberation. If and when that day comes, students can be sure that they are graduating with the ability to pursue a more just and humane world.

—Mara Silvers, MRC student & Coalition member