Response to the Retirement of Jodi Kelly & Message from SU President Sundborg

From the MRC Student Coalition:

“Dear community,
On Thursday July 21st, Seattle University’s President Fr. Stephen Sundborg, SJ sent an email to the Seattle University community announcing Dean Jodi Kelly’s retirement from the school, alongside his praise of her history at SU and his appointment of her to the emeriti faculty in honor of her “distinguished service.” The email ends with a few sentences of reflection from Jodi Kelly herself.

The MRC Student Coalition recognizes Jodi Kelly’s departure from Seattle University as a success of years of organizing and a 24-day sit-in which prompted multiple investigations and countless testimonies. Fr. Sundborg’s failure to speak to the whole truth of the matter erases and disrespects all the trauma and pain suffered for years by students, alumni, faculty, and staff and the ongoing work currently being undertaken to address issues of culture, climate, and curriculum.

This email presents a very different narrative than what was depicted in a Seattle Times interview with Fr. Sundborg. In the interview, he admitted that eight Matteo Ricci College faculty wanted Jodi Kelly to step down, that there is campus-wide faculty solidarity, and that there is a history of complaints against Jodi Kelly. Fr. Sundborg even admitted: “I do have regrets … We should have been aware of it earlier on and responded to it more quickly,” going on to say, “Our number-one value is we listen to students first … I’m going to err on the side of listening.” Yet, his choice to praise Jodi Kelly and to award her after “listening” to his students, alumni, faculty, and staff indicates to us he has more listening to do.

This was a missed opportunity for Stephen Sundborg, Jodi Kelly, and the institution of Seattle University to take responsibility and demonstrate the Jesuit concept of cura personalis, or “care for the whole person.” Jodi Kelly demonstrated no learning nor responsibility as students, alumni, faculty, and staff publicly shared their experiences of harm and neglect. She had ample opportunity to do so, such as when she wrote to the SU Spectator publication, when she testified before SU Academic Assembly, and in her final note in this email from Fr. Sundborg.

Seattle University marketing says “Here We Dare.” One of the most daring actions a leader can take is to admit error and take responsibility for their actions. Instead of daring to challenge the status quo with accountable leadership, Fr. Sundborg chose to praise Jodi Kelly as well as award her with emeriti honor while ignoring the harm and trauma students, alumni, faculty, and staff have experienced. This is not justice. As a community, we all deserve better.

As Seattle University celebrates its 125th anniversary, we will continue to dare and challenge this institution and community to do better. While Jodi Kelly’s departure is a tremendous success, the university’s framing of her departure shows there is much work to be done. This institution of learning can and must center the people most vulnerable to institutional violence and empower us to leverage our many privileges towards collective liberation.
In an age of rising consciousness about systematic oppression all around the world, we need an education that leads to our liberation from these systems. Textbooks across the U.S. are being revised to be “patriotic” instead of truthful and relevant. Teachers in Oaxaca and Guerrero, Mexico are being killed fighting for their rights as teachers, for their migrant students, and for culturally-relevant education. Indigenous schools and educators providing relevant, decolonial education are being attacked across Mindanao in the Philippines. It is our collective duty to build a more just and humane world. We continue to demand a relevant education empowering all people to build that world together. Will Seattle University dare to provide it?

We end this statement in gratitude to the many people who labored before us, who labor with us today, and will continue to labor after us for our collective liberation.

In continued resistance and solidarity,
The MRC Student Coalition”

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