Petition for Student-Centered Selection of VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Dear Classmates, Faculty, Staff, and Administration -
As we enter into Seattle Pacific University’s 125th year of educational excellence, we find ourselves in the midst of challenging times. These are times that force us to ask, “On what side of history will we stand?” As we watch the presidential debates—where sexism, ableism, racism, the Christian assumption, and islamophobia run rampant—in a country where the extrajudicial killings of black people occur daily, and the efforts of our Indigenous family to protect water rights are overlooked, we are reminded of how important it is to continue the pursuit of justice and liberation for all.
In January of this year, the SPU Justice Coalition (JC) came into existence. This was a response to SPU’s continued failure to address the needs and expectations of those students most impacted by inequitable and unequal policies and practices of the institution. After months of the Justice Coalition organizing and challenging SPU to make necessary changes, President Dan Martin finally announced the creation of a hiring committee for a position the institution refers to as the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
In the spring of 2016, the hiring committee appointed to oversee the selection of the VP met for the first time. The Justice Coalition requested that at least two of our members be allowed to join the committee. President Dan Martin denied this request, asking for the participation of only one member. Dr. Martin’s stated purpose for this limitation was historical pattern and practice, wherein a maximum of one student has been allowed to participate in hiring committees.
It has been the goal of the Justice Coalition to elevate the voices of those without privilege. Last year we hoped to do this by working with upper administration to change policy. After our experience with Dan Martin at the end of last year, we have been forced out of those conversations. Therefore, we are compelled to elevate the voices of students in a more public setting. While we know this is not typical of the conventional hiring process, we believe that such an innovative and important role in our university (the inauguration of a Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) requires a re-imagining of process and policy. We desire to see the university reach beyond the confines of normative institutional practices, understanding that such notions are a part of the structure we are striving to transform, including the ways in which we recruit and hire.
In partnership together, before trust was broken, we might have been able to navigate these complex issues. As of this month, with Dan Martin’s recent statement, it is clear that upper administration still believes that it can move forward without this partnership, despite our recent statement in which we carefully explained the importance of our role in the process. In light of this serious oversight, it is clear to us that Dan Martin, at least, lacks the necessary insight to make decisions that would meet the needs of our current crisis.
As such, the Justice Coalition, along with the signed student leaders, demand the following two points to be incorporated into the hiring of the VP:
First, in our original petition we requested not simply a Chief Diversity Officer, but rather a Chief Diversity Office. We have seen time and time again that a single person cannot move an entire institution to transform without a specific staff designated for this position. As a result, we demand an office equipped with the proper resources to enable the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to effectively fulfill the mandate of their job description. We desire a VP who will utilize the resources allocated for this position to best serve the mission of the office and those students impacted directly, first and foremost. Additionally, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion must have equal power to that of the university’s Provost to effectively carry out their duties. Otherwise, change will continue to be slow-moving and placed solely on the shoulders of one person.
Second, we demand that the new VP be an officer who will be interconnected and fully involved with all aspects of university life as well as one who is both knowledgeable and concretely experienced in this work and community. As such, this position requires someone who is committed to creating, implementing, and progressing new systems of justice and equity. Finding such a candidate requires thinking outside the box of SPU’s typical hiring protocol and the traditional hiring methods of higher education. After much discussion and organizing, the Justice Coalition and students put forward a candidate who we believe will serve the best interest of those most in need of equity and greater access, as well as the best interest of SPU overall.
In light of these points, understanding that we are in a unique position to express and identify the needs of SPU’s marginalized students, we believe that Nikkita Oliver is the best choice for the position. As such, the Justice Coalition and accompanying SPU student leaders strongly endorse Nikkita Oliver for this position. Our demand is that she should be given strong consideration for hire and that such consideration should be predicated on the support that we have amassed from the student body, as represented by the signatures on this petition.
Nikkita Oliver is a notable 2008 alumna and was recently awarded one of SPU’s 125 Ones to Watch. In her daily life and work she lives out SPU’s mission to “engage the culture and change the world.” She is a respected anti-racist community organizer and 2015 recipient of the Seattle Office of Civil Rights Artist Human Rights Leader Award. Nikkita, a Gates Public Service Scholar and graduate of the University of Washington Law School and College of Education, holds a Juris Doctorate in law and a Masters of Education of Social and Cultural Foundations. As a licensed attorney and community educator, Nikkita works with numerous community groups and organizations challenging the city and courts to transform their current policies and practices for more restorative and equitable methods to better serve those communities most impacted by injustice. Nikkita is committed to a vision of equity and belonging that is often spoken of yet rarely achieved in the Church. Her spiritual life is informed by a long tradition of faith, but also by her deep conviction to care for those underserved peoples who were also the focus of Jesus’ ministry.
There are many students and families for whom SPU is a legacy opportunity, but this is not true for all students. For those students pushed to the margins of the University, SPU is not a place where we can confidently send our children for the sort of education they deserve. For many of us, SPU has been a place of trauma. While we have learned to be graciously resilient, we do not desire to see the same harm inflicted upon our children and community. Yet we have invested time and energy in this place, and we desire for it to be a community to which we can return. As a result, we continue organizing to develop solutions to transform SPU into a place where we can learn and grow in the ways that best serve justice and liberation for all. We understand that for some, the realization of power, privilege, and the duty to confront such inequities is uncomfortable. However, those most impacted by injustice and inequity are often uncomfortable all the time, and we do not have the privilege of avoiding these issues. We cannot continue to ask those most impacted to bear the consequences of incremental reform. It is essential, however, to trust our voices, hearing and responding to our request in ways that truly provide long-lasting and effective relief. For what is a university, but for its students? What is a Christian university that is not truly led and transformed at the grassroots?
It has often been said of our generation that “we want everything right now”; the implication being that we are impatient and rash. This has also been said of the Justice Coalition; that because we do not understand how an institution such as SPU is run, we are too hasty, demanding, and unreasonable. This year Seattle Pacific University celebrates one-hundred and twenty-five years of existence -- how far have we come? How long have we been behind the curve, following the lead of educational institutions who claim no faith, and yet display a more Christian treatment of their students? We are told to wait! What are we waiting for? It seems to us that we will be “waiting”, as so many other students have, until we graduate (if we make it), only to pass on to the next generation an institution whose mistreatment of students has a proud legacy of one hundred twenty-five years. This is hardly impatience; we, collectively, have tried waiting. This is not a fit--it is a movement. We believe that Nikkita Oliver has shown the integrity, faithfulness, and dedication to a future that goes beyond inclusivity to belonging; beyond equality to equity; a future that we might all be proud to celebrate.
Finally, we understand, of course, that this, our most recent statement, is also our most unusual. We the students are speaking up because we believe it is necessary. What we hoped to accomplish in partnership, we now demand in public. Once more from Dr. King:
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that [oppressed people’s] great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another [person's] freedom…”
They tried to bury us. They did not know we were seeds
—The SPU Justice Coalition
The following student leaders endorse this letter:
Kelsey Lacanilao, Justice Coalition
Miguel Escobar, Justice Coalition
Tsion McNichols, Justice Coalition
Shongi Milcah Motsi, Justice Coalition; ASSP Vice President of Ministries
Ali Steenis, Justice Coalition
Dae Shik Kim Hawkins Jr, Justice Coalition
Arian Taher, Justice Coalition
Katy Wicks, Justice Coalition; SPRINT Coordinator
Erin Kimminau, Justice Coalition; Sharpen Core; Writing Center Lead Tutor
Jason Beutler, Justice Coalition
Maya Swinehart, Justice Coalition; Food Recovery Network President; Ability Advocacy Club Treasurer
Lindsey Thrower, Justice Coalition
Natalie Evans, Justice Coalition
Nakaira Petty, Alumna, Justice Coalition
Danny Anderson, Alumnus, Justice Coalition
Nikki Moran, Justice Coalition; Ohana Hawai’i Club
Henok Belay, Black Student Union Vice President
Ethiopia Ephrem, Black Student Union Public Relations Coordinator
Calvin Greer, Black Student Union
Jess Sloan, ASSP Vice President of Intercultural Affairs
Jacob Olson, Editor in Chief, Lingua Journal
Jacob Gombis, Designer, Lingua Journal
Kierstin Brown, Co-Campus Student Ministry Coordinator
Melissa DEL RIO, Chapel Abilities Awareness Advocate
Emma Naden-Johns, Catalyst Coordinator
Adrienne Elliot, Sharpen Core; S.P.A.C.E. Club Vice President
Kellianne Elliott, Sociology Club President; Mosaic Diversity Club Event Coordinator
Lennox Bishop, Sociology Club Co-President
Brian Pfau, President of Haven
Nathan Bennett, Co-leader of Haven; ASSP Vice President of Finance
Yoshia Kuramoto, President of Japanese Student Association
Bruna Afonso, Alumna; former Political Union President
Amanda Agrellas, Sophia Club President
Danielle Meier, ASSP Senator at Large; Set Free Club President
MacKynzie Watts, Political Union Secretary
Emma Wyma, ASSP Executive Club Coordinator
Taylor Miller, SPRINT Office and Budget Manager
Athena Duran, ASSP Senator, College of Arts and Sciences (Humanities)
Hannah Hislop, Group
Elva Smith, SPRINT Education Coordinator
Brandon Pope, Residence Hall Ministry Coordinator
Karli Stockhouse, Writing Center Tutor