Dear Members of the Seattle University Community,
On Wednesday of this week a group of students within Matteo Ricci College, the MRC Student Coalition, began a sit-in inside the college’s main office in Casey Hall.
I attended Thursday’s rally organized by the coalition. Yesterday morning, I participated in a meeting with other university leaders and coalition members. Both were opportunities for me to listen and try to better understand the concerns of the students and their very real pain and feelings of being marginalized. I cannot pretend to know how deep their pain goes, the amount of harm it has caused or the extent of our own shortcomings as educators and administrators.
What I do know is that these are serious issues and the way to address them is to work together in a spirit of empathy, solidarity, openness and cooperation. It is the foundation upon which we will be able to engage in thoughtful and constructive dialogue, make progress and arrive at good solutions.
I want to be clear that my strong desire is to work together toward solutions that address the concerns raised by the students. Some proposals have already been shared with the coalition that can facilitate this effort. They include a commitment to form a committee that will consist of Matteo Ricci faculty, students, coalition members, alumni and an external consultant (to be hired in consultation with the committee) to conduct a comprehensive review of the curricula of the college’s degree programs and make recommendations for addressing the students’ concerns. The review’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to the provost.
A consultant will be tasked with assessing the college’s culture, climate and manner of discourse and engagement both inside and outside the classroom. The consultant will then bring forward recommendations on how best to serve and support the college’s students. Racial and cultural literacy training will also be made available for the college’s faculty and staff.
There is an opportunity for us to work together with the coalition members toward real solutions, and I intend for them to be given ample opportunity to engage with us. In the meantime, their safety and well-being remains most important as they continue with the sit-in.
If you were to ask me even prior to this week’s events to identify one issue at the university that is more paramount than any other right now, I would say it’s the effort we have undertaken this academic year to understand, learn from and address what needs to be done to make our campus a more welcoming and inclusive community. While there are a number of ways in which we can point to Seattle University making good progress, there are many ways in which we can do more. The campus climate survey we conducted more than a year ago identified many, if not all of them.
At this year’s Mission Day we took up the topic of racial justice. It was a powerful day on which we confronted the biases and pain that many in our community experience as individuals. I am committed, as are so many of my colleagues, to ensuring that our highest aspirations as a university are translated to tangible actions.
We have already taken a number of concrete steps, including moving forward on initiatives outlined by the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence. The FY17 budget includes funding to establish a Chief Diversity Officer, a diversity council and new resources for faculty and staff training and development. It also includes resources for an additional staff position in Disabilities Services and a new Deputy Title IX Coordinator. In the year ahead, additional steps will be taken to better ensure that Seattle University is a place where no one feels marginalized.
This sort of work is not unique to our campus. As a Jesuit institution committed to social justice, we are called in a special and deeper way to be true to that mission. The progress we are making demonstrates our commitment. We know that there is more work to do. By working together we can and will make it happen.
I remain grateful for each and every member of our Seattle University community, and look forward to the day when every student, faculty member, staff person, alumnus, parent and friend of the university feels fully welcomed and included in it.
Please know you have my continued blessings and that yours are much appreciated as well.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.