A few weeks ago, a video of a man interrogating the staff of a local drive-through was posted. He was confirmed to be Reed psychology professor Paul Currie. Currie’s questions were xenophobic and threatening. Four times, he cast doubt on the employees’ immigration statuses, asking, “Are you born in the United States?”, “Where?”, “Here is where?”, “And was your colleague, the rude colleague born in the United States?”
I sat down last Thursday with chemistry professor Kelly Chacón to get her perspective on Paul Currie. After introductions, I began the interview
Indigo Magaña: You mentioned Paul Currie and how the surrounding events have deeply affected you. Would you like to talk about that and say what’s on your mind regarding that?
Kelly Chacón: Yeah, I mean…there are so few Latinx faculty at Reed, and there are fewer still that are like myself who have had undocumented family, immediate family, so this situation, it just makes you as a faculty member who is Latinx just wonder was I one of the good ones to him? Just seeing that video makes me so, so concerned that…other people may share this sentiment, and all I want to do is educate my colleagues who might under the surface feel those things. It’s not some kind of witch hunt. I just wish people could understand the complexities of our relationship with undocumented folks and not make horrible assumptions…right. So, it just feels like a betrayal, and I do have faith in my colleagues based partially on the letter that was sent out, that I was a part of. But also, while the process is going really slowly, I do know the process that’s in place is to protect me as well and my freedoms.
As a person who’s white-passing but has a brown father, I feel like educating people is partially my job, but it’s also really really conflicting in my heart…right. I want other people to be doing this work, and I wish I didn’t have to be, but the Latinx experience is so complicated and it’s not surprising that we have folks who have these latent thoughts about the other half of my family and the other half my country. I’m half Mexican. I wish Paul would get well. I also kinda wish he would resign. That’s my opinion…just my opinion, not that of all my colleagues, but I’m tenured, and I can have an opinion.
I want us to be especially mindful in our interactions with professors right now if and when we ask them to voice their support for Paul Currie’s termination. For professors of color, who already face plenty of obstacles at this college facing racism at times from both their colleagues and their students, you can be putting them in an uncomfortable position.
IM: Yeah, thank you for that. I relate to that on a pretty fundamental level. I also have a Mexican father, and yeah, I don’t know, it just makes me sad that a place like this that, in my mind, is very open, has produced things like this.
KC: Yeah, one of the things that faculty have really rushed to do is, which I think is great, is reaching out to Latinx organizations in the community. We reached out, and people really want to reach out to the community, and that’s really important, but also my opinion is that the call is coming from inside the house, and so we really need to look deeply. We’re an educational institution, and if people are not understanding at a senior level the experience of undocumented and totally legit citizens of our country that are Latinx, or Mexican, or whatever—then we really have failed. So, we do have to keep talking and get the education we need as an institution to keep this kind of awfulness from affecting our students and me as a faculty member. I don’t want to see Paul Currie again…right, so that’s really difficult.
IM: So in the interim period, while this process is going on, like you said very slowly, what do you recommend or what are your thoughts on what students, faculty, and staff at Reed could do to help heal in the meantime?
KC: Oh god…we talk about difficult conversations right, but we should continue to talk about them until they’re not difficult. We need to really make sure that those who are affected can openly and comfortably discuss the harm that was caused.
I also think we need to have transparency in whatever ways possible. I know that the privacy that’s being afforded to Paul is the same privacy that would be afforded to me or a student, and I have to respect that process, but I do think that there should be transparency in how we’re approaching this and some sort of way of making a process for future things like this.
If this had happened twenty years ago, I don’t think Reed would have taken this so seriously. So, it is really heartening to me, as a faculty member, to see the immediate support of my peers and my students checking in. I just don’t know if that would have necessarily happened. I would have felt ashamed to be a child of immigrants, but I don’t feel ashamed, and what I want to really stress to the students and faculty affected by this who are trying process is that those of us who are of other, who are people of color, who are from immigrant families, all untraditional folks at Reed, our work, and our beauty, and our scholarship should be eclipsing this. Hopefully, it might educate folks that we are more than just papers, documents, or fucking tropes. We are Reed, and we are increasingly Reed. It is changing. The numbers are changing, and I’m really honored to be a part of that, and we will see things like this happening as there is a struggle for folks to understand. I’ve never felt a place where I could talk honestly about my experiences, and I’ve had a very non-traditional compared to many of my colleagues or even many of my students, and I feel welcomed instead of othered…well, most of the time. We need to really celebrate, and I don’t mean to use it to gain admissions—not, ‘oh look how woke we are,’ I mean that we really have something special, and let’s not let Paul fuck that up.”
IM: Thank you for that. That moved me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
KC: I love my community, and I love you, and we’re gonna be okay. We have to stay close to the community and not let this fracture us. We have to stay strong and not let Paul take the spotlight on this.