Reed students protest faculty racism, inaction

Photo courtesy of Willamette Week

Students at Reed College staged a two-day sit-in on March 30th and 31st in protest of racist and xenophobic comments made by Professor of Psychology Paul Currie. In a 30-second TikTok video posted on March 17th, Currie is seen making comments regarding the immigration status of employees at a Portland McDonald’s drive-thru. With his window rolled down, he says “… hiring illegal immigrants” and questions the employee’s documentation status.

Outraged students took to Reed’s central Eliot Hall to protest. They left graffiti on the walls, calling for the faculty member to be fired. They then took their demands to the President’s Office, where they entered and began speaking to Reed President Audrey Bilger. There, they demanded answers regarding both the incident and Reed’s treatment of students of color, in particular their concerns surrounding faculty bias training and the process surrounding the protocol for student complaints. They also criticized Bilger’s email responding to the incident, in which she described Currie as a “valued member of the community.” After some time, Bilger left as students continued to protest.

According to the Reed Quest, the students had four main demands. First, that Currie takes accountability for the harms by taking part in a restorative justice conversation with the people in the video, and others impacted, once they agree to it. Second, that he be removed from his position at Reed if the demands are not met. Third, that Reed issue a statement condemning both Currie’s words and past anti-immigrant sentiment. Finally, for there to be a meeting with administrators to ensure demands are met and changes implemented.

Reed opened an investigation into the matter, but declined to give details regarding its timeline. According to an email sent by Dean of the Faculty Kathy Oleson on March 28th, the matter would be handled in accordance with the procedures of Section G or H of the Faculty Rules of Procedures. She explained that section G deals with consequences not involving suspension or firing, whereas section H addresses “fixed- term suspension or termination of academic tenure.”

In addition, On April 6th, students were invited to attend a meeting to “reflect on and share the impact of recent events — and to discuss systemic issues impeding our campus efforts.”

Currie, who is currently on sabbatical, sent an email to the student body apologizing for the incident.

“First and foremost, I would like to sincerely apologize to all of you,” he said in the email. “I know I have deeply offended you and for that I am truly sorry. There is no excuse to ever engage in offensive and discriminatory behavior and I accept full responsibility for my actions.”

Some faculty took collective action by submitting a letter to Reed asking that the Committee on Advancement and Tenure take action on the matter, according to an anonymous professor to the Reed Quest. 50 out of the 162 full-time faculty members signed the letter.

Other Reed organizations, such as the Reed chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America released statements on the incident.

“We wholeheartedly condemn his actions and call for his firing from Reed immediately. Paul’s actions uphold white supremacy and American chauvinism by insinuating that someone’s immigration status determines their value as a worker and as a human being,” said the organizations statement. “This goes against everything we stand for as a socialist organization seeking to liberate the international working class.”

Although the two-day sit in ended, students continue to demand action from administration on social media. They avoided posting photos of the sit- in to protect the identities of students after the situation reached a wider audience because right-wing journalist Andy Ngo reposted a photo that the Quest had posted on Twitter, criticizing the students actions.

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