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BOT report to address ‘Issues of Equality’

Maddie Hanna | Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Steadfast in their pursuit of increasing diversity awareness at Notre Dame, student body president Dave Baron, former president Adam Istvan and former vice president Karla Bell will address the Board of Trustees Thursday, giving a presentation based on solutions to the conceptual problems featured in their winter BOT report.The new report, entitled “Issues of Equality: Creating a Welcoming Environment for All, Part II: The Solution,” offers concrete answers to questions on how to combat the prevailing racist, heterosexist and sexist attitudes that the report authors say currently exist at Notre Dame.”We made a conscious effort not to prioritize the topics of racism, heterosexism, and sexism [over one another],” Bell said. “Each are present on campus and each harms certain individuals on a personal level and everyone in a community level.”Regarding racism, the report proposes expanding the Center for Social Concerns seminar programs, hiring a graduate student to organize the efforts of the 350 students who apply yearly to the Diversity Education program and implementing a Diversity Designation Requirement.The section on heterosexism calls homosexuals Notre Dame’s “invisible minority” and recommends the mandatory training of resident assistants, a voluntary peer ally program, the allocation of office space for the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs and the granting of official club status to a student group devoted to discussion between gay and straight individuals.To fight sexism, the report supports changes to the current Freshman Orientation program events – which it says can be “juvenile and hypersexualized” – as well as the addition of a peer-to-peer information program coordinated through Contemporary Topics, an increase in available dorm 24-hour social space and an updated University sexual assault schematic.”Though the traditions of our dorm life mark the uniqueness of our University, we must recognize that they are divided on lines of gender, and this fact does present implications to relations between men and women,” Bell said.She explained that it was not difficult for her, Istvan and Baron to select “Issues of Equality” as the topic for their winter BOT report, especially after research and reflection on the specified issues.”We felt that simply one hour was not enough to convey a situation and a solution, so we decided to split the presentation into two parts, the situation and solution,” Bell said.Istvan said Notre Dame’s climate, less diverse than that of many other institutions, was part of the problem.”The fact of the matter is that we don’t have as diverse a student body as many other schools do. As a white, straight man, I’m not faced with these issues everyday at Notre Dame,” Istvan said. “I think the student body is ripe and willing to make a commitment to issues of diversity, but I think it is important to listen closely to the minority of students when talking about a welcoming environment for all.”Although Baron is only finishing his third year at Notre Dame, he said he felt positive changes have occurred since 1980, when a Scholastic article was published addressing similar topics to the current BOT report.”It was troubling to see both reports explicitly discussed a disconnect between races, but I believe we have made progress,” Baron said. “Since then, the number of minority students at Notre Dame has more than doubled. If you include international students, that figure has tripled. I believe our student body is now more aware and cognizant to the fact that a respect for difference is important to our faith and our role in the world.”Both Istvan and Baron expressed confidence in the report’s potential to be effective in accomplishing their goals.”I do believe that these reports will have a significant impact. Each of the solutions presented in the report have been discussed with appropriate administrators, and I believe we will see movement on them,” Baron said.Istvan said he hoped the reports would generate discussion.”The most effective way to instigate change is through discussion. It means making sure that people have the information and education that will allow them to have discussions in their dorm rooms, the dining hall and LaFortune,” Istvan said. “It’s a grassroots means to see change.”While Baron often references “Part III: The Implementation,” he explained that there would not be an actual BOT report with this title in the future.”It will be a theme for [student body vice president] Lizzi [Shappell] and my administration for the whole year,” Baron said. “We believe in the solutions we are presenting, and we intend to work for their realization.”