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Diversity comes through dialogue

Greg Parnell | Monday, February 9, 2004

Over the past two weeks, you have witnessed Notre Dame students, faculty, and alumni use The Observer as a means to express their very passionate views about the issues of affirmative action and diversity. On one end of the spectrum, there are some who feel affirmative action policies are simply a mode of reverse discrimination, over-emphasizing race and failing to help those minority students most in need of assistance. On the other, there are those who maintain that affirmative action is a necessary policy to address the biased social, economic and political structures in America that seek to truncate minority ascension in educational and occupational fields. There is nothing wrong with having varied ideas about such a controversial topic – as long as individuals on both sides are willing to keep an open mind and listen to what others have to say. The recent series of articles in The Observer has made it very clear that there is a great need on this campus for more than paper-laden debates. Some prejudiced attitudes expressed in The Observer show just how far we as a community and as a nation have yet to go. Ignorance is disease that allows one to think that only his perspective is truth. Truth comes with looking at all sides of the argument, attacking the issues, and reaching open-minded, educated conclusions. It is easy to point the finger and say that others have problems understanding race; It is difficult to first address your own. How many of you have ever said or even thought, “He is not as good a student as everyone else here. It’s obvious that the only reason he got in here is because he is a minority.” Or conversely, “White people are ignorant to what is really going on in the world. They already own everything; why are they trying to take the one thing we have going in our favor?” Neither of the above thought patterns shows a true understanding of the issue. These problematic ideologies toward people of a different race are the first obstacle that we as a community must overcome in order to achieve a true liberal education. Diversity is about bringing people with different experiences and perspectives together so that we can learn from each other. This is a noble goal, no matter which camp you might be in. Yet without healthy dialogue – listening, as well as speaking out – diversity becomes a mute phrase that lacks meaning and importance in our lives. We cannot let this happen at Notre Dame. We students will someday participate in a world that is as diverse as this campus is homogeneous. If we do not first learn how to relate to each other as classmates, what can be said for the future world market? This being said, we issue the patrons of The Observer a challenge. We challenge you to stop harboring your feelings and take action, to understand others and have others understand you. We offer three ways to enter this great debate: First, Notre Dame will hold a Diversity Week from Feb. 16 to 18. This week will include a debate between current faculty members who will be sorting through both sides of this sensitive issue, followed by a night for student response. We ask that all students who hold opinions on this topic or would just like to listen to a great discussion, to come. The event will end on Wednesday with a social to amend feelings and look ahead. If you wish to learn more about this week, please contact Demetrius Hall (dhall1@nd.edu).Secondly, a student-run organization called Sustained Dialogue has organized a plan for changing the nature of understanding on this campus. But their mission will be unsuccessful without the participation of every student on this campus. If you are interested in this group, please contact Tessa Garcia (tgarcia1@nd.edu) or Eve Thomas (ethomas1@.nd.edu).Finally, the mission statement of this great University claims to “create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.” How can we accomplish this without ever discussing the merits of diversity and issue of race relations? So, as Maryann Erigha suggested in her Jan. 29 letter, we propose that the University require that every student take a class specifically devoted to the study of marginalized people. If any student wishes to help in constructing a proposal to the administration concerning a diversity requirement, contact us and we will be more than willing to work with you.The two of us, Rhea Boyd and Greg Parnell, may not agree on everything. But we are writing this article together to demonstrate to you that even the most outspoken proponents and ardent opponents of affirmative action are willing to talk together, work together, and together, seek ways to make this campus a better place for every student. And now, we ask for you to do the same. Throw down the chains that hold you immobile and help this University achieve an excellence it has never before seen.

Greg Parnell is a sophomore political science and economics major. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at gparnell@nd.edu. Contact Rhea Boyd at boyd.35@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily of The Observer.