You may have read that students at Matteo Ricci College at Seattle University called for the resignation of Dean Jodi Kelly for using the “n-word.” The students were already protesting (through a sit-in) against what they view as the college’s too-white humanities curriculum. (The Jesuit college focuses entirely on humanities.)
It turns out that Kelly had been recommending comedian Dick Gregory’s autobiography, Nigger.
In Inside Higher Education, Gregory writes an essay to student protestors and speaks specifically about the protesters at Matteo Ricci. Among his comments:
I am disappointed that they seemed to have stopped at the title instead of opening the book and reading its contents. Years ago my mama told me, “Son, sticks and stones can break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” I grew up thinking that Richard was what they called me at home, but my real name was Nigger.
That’s why I named my autobiography Nigger, because it only echoes what “they” called me — it doesn’t define who I am.
Some students want to punish Dean Kelly for giving them some good advice. Somehow, her advice and the hypersensitivity to her suggesting my book by its title managed to get dragged into the curriculum debate. By adding a hot-button racial component to that debate, the students managed to water down their main objectives. Movements need to be clear and well defined, yet they rarely are.