On March 25, two days before the start of the term after spring break, the Reed student body received an email from the President’s office with the subject line “Regarding video of a faculty member.” The body of the email addresses student concerns about a viral TikTok video that showed a “valued member of the Reed community,” whom the college did not refer to by name, making “racist and offensive comments at a local business.” The President’s office expressed support for the targeted people in the video and claimed to be working to assess its accuracy.
The “valued member of the community”, as it turned out, was Psychology Professor Paul Currie. For many students who had heard nothing of the incident before the administration’s message, a google search was needed to see the video for themselves. Those Google searches would inevitably lead back to the Twitter account @ThatDaneshGuy, run by an influencer who traces and exposes bigots online. On March 25, around 6:00 a.m., Danesh tweeted the TikTok video with the caption “I’ve identified this racist (and possibly drunk driver?) as Paul J Currie, Psychology Professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.” The original video was uploaded on March 17 to TikTok by an account named_michelle3_0.
The video in question is shot through the window of a drive-through at an unclear time of day and location which shows a middle-aged white man struggling to hold back an enthusiastic lab while arguing with a service worker about their immigration status. At around the TikTok’s halfway point, the heroic lab manages to unhook the man’s mask, revealing the clear and fully visible face of Paul Currie.
If, as the administration insinuated in their first email, there was any doubt as to the accuracy of this video, that doubt was alleviated around twenty-four hours later when Paul Currie himself replied to the original thread apologizing for actions that he acknowledged to be reprehensible and declaring that he would be working to educate himself and regain the trust of the student body. The following days, however, would suggest that regaining any sort of camaraderie with the Reed student body may be a more difficult task than Currie would’ve anticipated.
Student activist groups and the student body at large were quick to demand transparency and accountability of the administration, and they were not shy about letting their voices be heard. Graffiti, questioning emails, and signs placed all across the campus culminated on Wednesday with a sit-in at Eliot hall. While President Audrey Bilger apologized to the students and repeated the phrases, “I’m listening, I hear you” nothing was being done to change the situation at hand. Conversations felt repetitive, leaving students frustrated, confused, and unheard.
The next day saw the continuation of the student’s occupation of Eliot, with a few added twists. One, Bilger had announced a public meeting taking place under the commons tent in which she, Dean of Faculty Kathy Olsen, Vice President for Student Life Dr. Karnell McConnel-Black , and several other members of the administration would be ready and waiting to have an open dialogue with students and answer questions to the best of their abilities. The second change was that graffiti was being cleaned up instead of applied. After a night of discussion and education, members of the general body of protestors had decided that defacing the walls of Eliot hall was an inappropriate protest technique as it would ultimately do nothing but put more strain and overwork onto the shoulders of the majority BIPOC facilities staff. Much of the time in Eliot that day was spent by protesters cleaning up their work from the day before in an effort to save facilities the trouble. This was done most successfully, with some concerns regarding fumes from cleaning supplies.
As the majority of students waited in Eliot, the president and administrators sat in front of commons and conversed with the small number of students who had shown up to air grievances.
In the days following the sit-ins, student protesting efforts have slowed slightly but certainly not stopped. The Reed Walkout Discord server has over 300 members, and anyone walking past Eliot hall will have seen the tabling students hoping to gain petition signatures from prospective Reedies on tours. Whether these efforts will prove successful or not, the student body does not seem likely to let this matter go any time before Paul Currie’s name is officially off of Reed’s payroll.