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Students will present to Board of Trustees

Amanda Michaels | Thursday, February 3, 2005

In a complete reversal of approach from their policy-oriented October report to the Board of Trustees, student body president Adam Istvan, vice president Karla Bell and chief executive assistant Dave Baron are presenting a report heavy in concepts and light in solutions at the BOT’s meeting this afternoon.

Called “Issues of Equality: Creating a Welcoming Environment for All, Part 1: The Situation,” the report is a compilation of testimonials and themes gathered from recent focus groups that address the issues of racism, heterosexism and sexism at Notre Dame.

“This part of the report doesn’t necessarily make recommendations,” Baron said. “It’s a call to action, and also labels what we’re doing well.”

With the Trustees’ input, they will then go back to the focus groups for more intense discussion, and offer solutions to the problem in their April report to the BOT, Bell said.

Istvan explained that the difference in tactic from their first report – a shift from business to ideals – was not due to the BOT’s criticism of their SafeBus plan in October, but was necessitated by the more conceptual topic.

Baron, Istvan and Bell each worked with the focus groups and campus organizations to identify the conflicts at the root of their individual issues-racism, heterosexism and sexism, respectively.

The section on racism addresses the “disconnect” between racial groups on campus, specifically regarding the firing of former Irish football head coach, Tyrone Willingham, and the lack of opportunities for those genuinely interested in bridging the gap.

“It’s very important that everyone of the majority consciously thinks about race and everything that affects it. In regards to the Willingham firing, we couldn’t get a good answer of whether there was a good discussion of the race issue,” Istvan said.

It also highlights the low number of campus resources for exploring diversity, but the high demand that overwhelms them, often forcing students interested in classes or Social Concerns Seminars that deal with race on to long waiting lists.

The section on heterosexism deals with the problems faced by the gay, lesbian and bisexual students the report calls “invisible minority,” including the pressure to “hook-up” and the misunderstanding of the Catholic stance on the issue of homosexuality.

The final part explores the perceived atmosphere of sexism that pervades Notre Dame.

“We are a community on campus, but one that is separated by gender lines,” Bell said. The report cites the inequality of treatment between men’s and women’s dorms, the lack of resources at Health Services and the Counseling Center to deal with gender-concentrated problems like sexual assault and eating disorders and the prevalence of women in supporting roles in campus organizations.

“There are problems that are true in all three sections of the report. There is a common vernacular that uses insensitive language. Stall notes are chock full of sexist remarks. If something is bad or wanted, it’s called ‘gay’,” Istvan said. “The problem is that people don’t realize these comments are hurting people.”

Istvan, Bell and Baron said they saw discrimination and inclusion as the major concerns of the student body, and felt it was their responsibility to make the BOT aware of the full extent of the problem, since the Trustees are only on campus a few times a year.

“The Board of Trustees report is the most important opportunity the student government has to make an impact on the University,” Istvan said. “Diversity is the most important issue on campus right now, so we might as well use our best opportunity to address it.”

In an effort to encourage students to claim what Istvan called “authorship” of the report, it was posted on the student government’s Web site on Monday for all to read. Today is also the official ‘We Are ND’ day of Diversity Week, and the leaders are hoping the campus wears their green T-shirts in a show of support and solidarity for their presentation.

Istvan will not be presenting at today’s meeting, as he has an interview with the U.S. Navy, the date of which was impossible to change. However, he expressed confidence in Baron and Bell’s abilities and in the strength of the report.

“This issue is so important,” Istvan said. “It doesn’t matter who presents it.”