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Claire Heininger | Friday, February 20, 2004

When Father Edward Sorin founded the University in 1842, diversity at Notre Dame was not yet a catchphrase, a controversy or an aspiration – it was an oxymoron. The students of the early years were male. They were white. They were straight. They were Catholic. And there was no question about it. Questions, as we all know, arrived. Questions persist. Questions arose about who belongs here and to what extent. Questions now arise about diversity itself. One thing is certain – diversity means more than these categories. Narrowing its definition to sex, race, religion and sexual preference, though clearly the most glaring sources of discrimination, is only a starting point. While this series has largely focused on these four areas, diversity as a term and as a goal is more far-reaching. Unlike the uniformity that characterized our campus at the beginning, it cannot be nailed down. The University’s mission dictated a specific reputation, and attracted a specific kind of student. But while its foundation – and much of its formation – was characterized by homogeneity, several individuals along the way provided ripples of change. President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh was one of those individuals, as he became a vocal supporter of both civil rights legislation and coeducation during his tenure. Deeply aware of the difference between the appearance of diversity on the surface and true interaction, he encouraged students and faculty, then and now, to ground their beliefs about equal rights in Catholic values.Influential figures were not all as visible as Hesburgh, but often they needed to share in his resolve. Wayne Edmonds, the first minority to broach another sphere inseparable from the Notre Dame name – football – endured racial epithets from fans and segregation during Southern road trips. Josephine Ford, the first woman faculty member to receive tenure, watched priests get promoted and eventually filed a sexual discrimination suit against the University. David Garrick, the most well-known priest to publicize his homosexuality at Notre Dame, felt so ostracized that he resigned in protest.As lines began to blur and barriers began to topple, standing up for diversity became less about standing alone. Current University President Edward Malloy and Director of Admissions Dan Saracino are united in their emphasis of economic diversity, as evidenced by an increased emphasis on financial aid. Both also insist that minority recruitment does not have an adverse effect on Notre Dame traditions – and that the future mosaic of students will reflect both the University’s consistent character and the United States’ changing demographics.The stories of unique students of today reflect a similar theme of solidarity and strength. Nahyan Fancy can afford to speak out for Muslims because of the United Muslim Association standing behind him. Rick Friedman can feel comfortable discussing his sexuality because of the OutreachND support system that offers him refuge. The Notre Dame community of today is the most diverse in University history – not only in its breadth, but also, tellingly, in its depth.Despite these strides, cynicism and disillusionment remain – often because the University has not done enough to diminish them. It is easy to identify clusters in the dining hall that are grouped by race. The University’s anti-discrimination clause still does not explicitly include homosexuals. We cannot narrow diversity to four areas, yet the “norms,” as we perceive them, are still firmly entrenched. In large part, Notre Dame admits that it still has a long way to go to accomplish its goals. However, to dismiss the exceptional individuals showcased in this series as blips on the uniformity radar would be selling them short. Just like in 1842, diversity at Notre Dame is not a catchphrase. It has been, is now and will be about tangible experiences, authentic stories, and above all, real people.