Seattle dean placed on leave for recommending book
A dean at Seattle University has been placed on administrative leave for recommending a book titled Nigger to a student involved with a group of protesters who are demanding a more diverse curriculum.
The student, who has yet to be identified by name, recounted the event, saying Dean Jodi Kelly “needs to be removed” for her actions.
"I am disappointed that they seemed to have stopped at the title instead of opening the book and reading its contents."
“That word still hurts…It is not her place to tell me not to be offended. This woman needs to be removed. I’m worried about the students that come after me,” the student remarked.
The anonymous student claims to be a member of a group known as “ Matteo Ricci College Coalition,” referring to themselves by the namesake of their academic college, whose curriculum, they allege, places an inordinate emphasis on dead white males. The group is closing in on the end of a month-long occupation of the dean’s office, from which it has refused to depart until the college develops a new curriculum that “decentralizes whiteness” and places a “critical focus on the evolution of systems of oppression such as racism, capitalism, colonialism, etc.”
Accordingly, when an anonymous protester met with her in her office, Kelly suggested the student read Nigger, the autobiography of civil rights activist Dick Gregory, since the students had been asking for texts written from “marginalized backgrounds.”
“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 … I am not in the habit of ever using that word … I believe it demeans us all,” Kelly explained to Seattle-based paper The Stranger.
Nonetheless, Interim Provost Bob Dullea placed Kelly on administrative leaving, a move that garnered the endorsement of SU’s president, Stephen Sundborg, who initially urged students to relinquish their efforts to oust Kelly as dean of the college, according to Inside Higher Ed.
“I have taken this action because I believe, based on information that has come forward over the past several weeks, that successful operations of the college at this time require that she step away from day-to-day management and oversight,” Dullea wrote in explanation of his decision.
Although student protesters, who still occupied the dean’s office at the time of publication, insist that Kelly did not sufficiently address their demands, she had agreed to establish a committee of faculty and students to review the college’s curriculum, and hire an outside consultant to lead faculty in “racial and cultural literacy training.”
Furthermore, Dick Gregory, author of Nigger, has even defended Kelly, saying he is “not offended” by her use of the n-word since he is the one who decided to title his book with a racial slur.
“I am not offended by Dean Kelly’s use of the word ‘nigger.’ In fact, I am pleased that she has the foresight to want to give these young men and women the knowledge, insight and experience of a civil rights activist that might just help them understand life a little better,” Gregory commented in a letter published in Inside Higher Ed.
He went on to admonish students for not even taking the time to read his book, saying many student activists are focusing on the wrong injustices.
“I am disappointed that they seemed to have stopped at the title instead of opening the book and reading its contents,” he continued. “Many times we rise up for injustices that are not the most oppressive.
“Students, your dean didn’t name the book—I did. I am hopeful that my autobiography will become required reading at Matteo Ricci College, and I am certain that it will be enlightening. I’ll even provide the books for free.”
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski