With brave and revolutionary fervor, a student group, the Matteo Ricci Coalition, has taken control of the Matteo Ricci College of Seattle University, to challenge and dismantle institutional racism, sexism, ableism, and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. Liberation News has been on the scene since it started on May 11 when the MRC held a rally and marched to the college’s administrative offices, which they proceeded to occupy stating that they would not leave until their demands were satisfied. They began their occupation by acknowledging the Duwamish land the school rests on, stolen by western European colonizers.
What the MRC wants to change is clear: They want an immediate end to the Western European-centric “humanities” education given by the Matteo Ricci College, where one organizer stated they could count the number of non-white authors on one hand over the course of their four-year education. Members of the coalition want more diverse philosophers, authors and academics to replace the present curriculum. Furthermore, the MRC wants diversification in their professors in regards to race, gender, ability, and so on. This demand must be understood in the context that only one in 19 professors at SU are not white, according to the school website
Students enrolled at the Matteo Ricci College and the organizers of the Matteo Ricci Coalition shared their experiences of frustration and discrimination. Fiza Mohammad, a 22-year-old student, stated she was frequently called words like “aggressive” and “emotional,” two words often used to describe and disenfranchise women, especially women of color.
On the second day of the occupation, the MRC held a march and rally on campus to “make sure no one on campus was not aware of the occupation on campus and what they were fighting to win,” said activist Robert Gavino, a queer person of color. Organizers started in the university quad before marching throughout the campus and into the largest building, the student center, using megaphones to call attention to their fight for justice and equity.
Dean of Matteo Ricci College used N-word
Two hours after the march, the coalition held a teach-in where multiple professors in solidarity brought their classrooms to the event to educate and motivate them to join the fight. Many students spoke of their struggles against racism, ableism, sexism, and many more forms of discrimination either at Matteo Ricci College or Seattle University in general. In front of a room packed with supporters, a Black woman student shared an account of her interaction with the dean of Matteo Ricci, Jodi Kelly. She had been in the dean’s office to handle a racist incident. Kelly invalidated her experience saying that words were simply words and that they only have meaning if we give them it. The student burst into tears as she described how her white dean said the N-word five times in front of her as if it had no historical weight and as she cried students stood up to clap and hug her.
Three days after the occupation started, SU administration was feeling the heat. By May 13 at 11 a.m., Liberation witnessed as the provost, vice president, and university president sat down to discuss the MRC demands. Administrators urged students to go through a bureaucratic process by filing paperwork to settle their grievances. However, the students and organizers could see through the administration’s tricks. The MRC rejected this proposal and instead reiterated its demands that Dean Kelly be fired, the curriculum be changed to be less Eurocentric, and the university’s faculty be diversified.
The MRC is fighting against institutional oppression within an institution, and their efforts are not alone. University occupations and other forms of militant struggle are occurring more frequently as students recognize the ways in which their own curriculum and institution perpetuate and contribute to inequality. Recently, students at University of California Davis held an occupation lasting nearly a month calling for corrupt Chancellor Linda Katehi to be fired from her position. Just across town in Seattle, students at the University of Washington are also involved in an ongoing and militant struggle against institutional racism and for the university to divest from prison labor industries.
The MRC is an excellent example of the fight against all forms of oppression and the sheer determination needed to win their demands. Organizers like Robert Gavino state that they will stay for as long as it takes for their demands to be met, and until then, they will continue to organize and raise awareness of injustice at Seattle University.