Seattle U. Dean Suspended After Recommending Black Activist's Book

Students demand curriculum changes, policing of microaggressions.


Dick Gregory
Screenshot via 105.1 Breakfast Club

Seattle University has suspended Jodi Kelly, dean of the humanities program at Matteo Ricci College, in wake of student protests demanding her ouster. 

In line with protesters at the other colleges, Seattle students are demanding far-reaching changes to the curriculum, which they say is traumatizing, marginalizing toward people of color, and rooted in white privilege. 

Complaints against Kelly are a bit more specific. One student claimed that the dean used an ethnic slur during a private meeting. But Kelly maintains that she didn't say the n-word in a derogatory way: she was actually recommending an autobiography by civil rights activist Dick Gregory. The book is titled Nigger

Here is Kelly's side of the story, according to The Stranger

"The student asked for more diversified reading. I complied and pulled the book from my shelf. The title, as you know, could startle, so I relayed the story of Dick Gregory explaining to his maternal ancestors why he titled it that way. His response? "Dear Momma — Wherever you are, if ever you hear the word "nigger" again, remember they are advertising my book." 

"I am not in the habit of ever using that word… I believe it demeans us all." 

The student presented the meeting in a different light: 

She said she met last spring with Kelly to ask for a more diverse, culturally responsive curriculum. In response, Kelly "used the n-word… she said it three or four times. The full word." 

In the student's telling, Dean Kelly said the student could reclaim the word if she wanted to, citing a black comedian's comments. 

The student said she broke down after her meeting with the dean. 

It's impossible to tell whether the student was right to be offended or not. Gregory, the author of the autobiography, sided with the dean in an essay for Inside Higher Ed. Certainly, the situation calls to mind the witch-hunt against Andrea Quenette, who used the n-word while discussing her own racial blind spots with her class. Unless the college is sitting on additional evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Kelly, her suspension seems incredibly premature. 

The students' other demands are motivated by their collective sense of oppression

Dissatisfaction, traumatization, and boredom are realities within our collective MRC experiences, as well as being ridiculed, traumatized, othered, tokenized, and pathologized. These experiences have been profoundly damaging and erasing, with lasting effects on our mental and emotional well-being. Additionally, the curriculum in MRC is unsatisfactory as a Humanities program. For students to have their personal and ancestral voices erased in curriculum and conversation, only to be told that their experiences of pain are insignificant, is psychologically abusive. 

In light of this college environment, multiple cohorts of students in both the Humanities for Teaching and Humanities for Leadership majors have joined together to write our truths and demand systemic change. 

They want the college to force professors to undergo sensitivity training and police microaggressions in the classroom, among other things.