Demonstrators confront President Bilger Regarding College Response
This article will not use the names of any students involved in the protest to protect their identities.
This article was originally written March 31, 2022. It was edited April 2, 2022, as it originally misidentified “night owls,” students working with Reed’s Sexual Health And Relationship Education (SHARE) program as Orientation and Wayfinding Leaders (OWLs), which are a group of students working in Residence Life.
This is an ongoing story and will continue to be updated as the events unfold.
At 11:00 a.m. Wednesday, March 30, students, faculty, staff, and other Reed community members formed a crowd stretching from the psych building, past the ETC, and nearly to the library protesting Reed’s insufficient response to the despicable and racist statements of Psychology Professor Paul Currie. Currie was filmed harassing employees at a local establishment, questioning their immigration status and hurling racist stereotypes about Latine people.
The light drizzle did little to deter demonstrators as they began to cheer in response to organizers questioning Paul Currie’s response email saying “He said he wants to educate himself. How is he going to educate, what is he going to do?” Protest organizers said they were appalled to think of what “racist shit happens off-camera.” Demonstrators were all especially upset at an email sent out by President Audrey Bilger which described Currie as a “valued member of the community.” All called for Currie’s termination as new speakers rose to the fore.
A student who recently immigrated to the US from Brazil to attend Reed stressed the importance of student action, advocacy, and solidarity, saying that whenever “it is time for someone to be held accountable, students will make life hell for those like Currie.” Organizers then presented a list of demands:
That Paul Currie take full accountability for his actions and the harm he has created, that Currie have a restorative justice conversation with those he harmed both in the video and elsewhere when the harmed are willing to do so.
That Currie be fired from teaching and advising at Reed until these demands are met or if they aren’t met in a timely manner.
That the college issue a statement fully denouncing Currie’s statements and the college’s previous statements on the matter as well as any anti-immigrant sentiment.
A meeting with administrators to make sure these changes are discussed and implemented.
Organizers then went onto characterize Reed administration’s previous statements as “ridiculous and harmful,” saying, “diverse and anti-racist my ass.”
The crowd then marched towards Eliot chanting “Fire Paul Currie” and “Fuck Paul Currie” before finally entering the President’s Office. Organizers asked the crowd to quiet down and began expressing concerns about Reed’s safety for people of color to Bilger. Demonstrators brought up professor racism while teaching HUM 110 and criticized Audrey for doing little to affect anti-racist change in Reed’s community. Bilger responded saying “I hear that” and that she is trying to strengthen the bias incident reporting process. Students responded that Reed has done nothing to make students of color feel comfortable and supported, reiterating the Student Committee on Diversity’s long held proposals for an administrative policy mandating faculty bias training. Bilger said that such a policy should be passed by the faculty who have resisted such training in their own governance process. Students expressed concerns over the effectiveness of the Faculty Grievance process when Currie sat on the Faculty Grievance Panel. They questioned the ability of a panel made up of Currie’s close associates to judge his actions effectively.
Interim Dean of Institutional Diversity Tony Boston addressed the crowd, stressing the importance of the conversation being had and expressing how the administration is committed to making changes. Boston expressed his understanding that administrators had no control over the faculty driven termination process. Students asked why none of the college’s emails named Currie, and Audrey said administration didn’t think the community “wanted to hear his name further.” Students then asked why Paul can send out an email to the whole community while Student Body Info emails are moderated by administration.
Boston pulled attention to sustainable changes, stressing long term incremental progress. Reed seniors in attendance yelled out that “they wait for us to cycle out, to get tired, to stop fighting.” Bilger said that she came to Reed with the intention of making change, so students asked her what changes she had made. She listed the formation of the Student Committee on Diversity, which was largely formed by students, and the Staff Committee on Diversity, saying that committees are an effective way to lift up voices in the community. Bilger added that she could not disclose any of the ongoing investigations into Currie.
Students urged administration to say that they do not value racists like Currie in their community. A first year with undocumented family members who had Currie as their advisor expressed their pain at hearing that Currie hates their family. Another student said that even though Audrey has little ability over the tenure process, she has not expressed any sentiment against Paul specifically or in favor of racial bias training for professors. Students criticized Bilger for doing nothing to advocate for specific anti-racist policy changes in public, saying that by leaving this work up to students admin is doing harm, making work for them that administration should be doing. Bilger said that “Paul Currie will not be fired today,” but condemned his actions. Students asked Audrey to condemn Currie himself, and Bilger responded that she “doesn’t know him well enough” to condemn him and that she will not base that off of the contents of a video. Students said that the circulated video of Currie had given them all they needed to condemn him confidently.
Demonstrators asked how much Currie’s severance package would be and how much he makes now. Bilger responded that she didn’t know how much Currie makes or how much he would be paid in the case of termination. Students asked for a timeline of Currie’s investigation, and Bilger responded that they could find this information in Dean of Faculty Kathy Oleson’s email, when there was, in reality, no timeline included in the email. A student yelled out that if Currie were staff, he would have been fired immediately.
An administrator in the room said that the situation was “getting very intense,” to which students responded “it’s been intense for students of color the whole time.” Bilger characterized the video as “complicated” and said that she cannot condemn Currie as she will be involved in his hearings which “have to remain fair.” Bilger tried to assure students that she “understands racism,” which elicited a student to yell out that she “doesn’t understand how for students of color this institution is a hellhole.”
After the discussion had gone on for some time, Bilger asked for a break from the questions, assuring students that she was not “running away.” She entered a side room in her office to sit down; approximately 20 minutes later, she exited the room, left Eliot, and departed from campus.
Students continued chanting “fuck Paul Currie” as they exited Bilger’s office. Reedies remained in Eliot for a few hours, writing calls to action on walls, chanting, and speaking with various administrators in more private capacities. “Night owls” working with Reed’s Sexual Health and Relationship Education (SHARE) program handed out water bottles and snacks while other students collected trash and compost. Students passed around the contact information of members of the Board of Trustees and encouraged each other to contact board members with their grievances. Eventually, students moved outside to continue demonstrating outside Vollum and behind Eliot where admissions tours were passing through campus. Flyers were circulated that listed faculty members who had signed a letter calling for “investigation on Paul Currie.” Signatures to the letter are still open, and many faculty members had not seen the letter by the time of its circulation. A piece on faculty response to Currie’s actions will be published soon. The protest disbanded at around 2:30 p.m., with the intent of regathering for another sit-in in Eliot the next day.
On Wednesday evening, Bilger sent out an email titled “Our shared values,” which addressed grievances raised by students during the protest. In the email, Bilger condemned “the words spoken by Paul Currie and his behavior in the video circulating on social media,” adding that the words and actions were “antithetical” to Reed values. Bilger stated that she and Oleson regret calling Currie a “valued member of the community,” and apologized for the statement. Regarding sanctions against Currie, Bilger wrote that the Committee on Advancement and Tenure is currently working to investigate and address Currie’s behavior “as quickly as possible.” Said Bilger, “The content of these recent discussions have extended well beyond a hateful video, and while we have done much work to advance our aspirations of becoming an anti-racist institution, it is clear that we have a great deal more ahead.”