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Ordinance, diversity discussed

Justin Tardiff | Thursday, December 1, 2005

Student Senate confronted the long-controversial issue of diversity at Notre Dame and the recent hot topic of community relations by passing two resolutions at its Wednesday night meeting.

The resolution regarding the South Bend Public Nuisance Ordinance that was amended on July 25 – sparking debate among members of the Notre Dame and South Bend communities concerned that one notice to abate could become grounds for student eviction – passed quickly without opposition.

The other resolution, which recommends creating a committee to investigate the methods and means necessary to incorporate cultural competencies within the Notre Dame curricula, elicited a solid 30 minutes of back-and-forth discussion until Minority Affairs committee chair Rhea Boyd silenced confused senators by clarifying that she had already received verbal approval from Provost Thomas Burish and Vice President and Associate Provost Jean Ann Linney.

“There will be no changes to it. This is the draft they’re going to go with,” Boyd said.

Controversy stemmed from the resolution’s “vagueness,” an issue first raised by physics professor and Faculty Senate liaison Philippe Collon, who said members of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee requested clarification before they would voice support for the resolution.

“‘Cultural competency’ was very wide and not explained in this document,” Collon said. “What is cultural competency? Where does this come in?”

Boyd, whose Minority Affairs committee drafted the resolution after its proposal requesting the addition of a diversity course requirement met with too much resistance from the administration, defined cultural competency and said the committee had debated long and hard about the choice of words.

“Competency is an acquired ability, knowledge or skill,” Boyd said. “We’re hoping Notre Dame students can acquire some knowledge or skill … on how to comprehend cultural experiences.”

The term “culture” is meant to be vague, Boyd said, to allow members of the proposed committee – composed of student, faculty and administrative representatives – to exercise discretion and discuss what constitutes culture.

“It is very possible within the Notre Dame experience to surround yourself with people [like you] and experiences much like your own within your time here,” Boyd said. “We don’t just want to create another committee about this.

“But as students, we just don’t have the resources, the knowledge” to craft a proposal deemed feasible and acceptable by the University, Boyd said.

Frustration mounted as senators fixated on specifics – how would new “culture” requirements work with fine arts classes? What about Classics classes? And what about students who enter with so many AP credits they are done with University requirements? – while Boyd emphasized the bigger picture.

“Just to make a point – we’re not advocating a requirement at this point,” she said. “This is a conversation that the whole University needs to have.”

Knott senator Jacques Nguyen backed Boyd and said while “some of us may agree [a course requirement] is the way to go,” it may not be the only way to achieve the committee’s goals.

“Notre Dame supports cultural competency within its students,” he said.

Student body president Dave Baron explained the background behind the idea of a diversity course requirement, a student government proposal that has gone through different bodies and modifications during its two-year existence.

Although the passed resolution calls for a committee to assess cultural issues, Baron said even the diversity course requirement wasn’t what many students might think.

“We say ‘requirement,’ and automatically, we do get scared,” Baron said. “[The proposed requirement] was a double-count requirement. You’re not doing another different class you weren’t doing before … it’s not as onerous.”

He said currently existing classes, such as the popular Race and Ethnicity in American Politics, would cross-list with a cultural or diversity course requirement.

At the end of the meeting, senators quickly approved a resolution regarding the South Bend Public Nuisance Ordinance presented by Community Relations committee chair Nick Guzman.

“This is kind of a follow-up to the call to action” voiced by student government earlier in the year, Guzman said. “Its intention is to go in front of the city, introduce our perspective … [state] the problem.”

While the resolution acknowledges the legitimacy of concerns presented by South Bend residents regarding disrespectful behavior practiced by Notre Dame students, it targets the amendment’s guidelines.

“The argument we’re making here is pretty procedural,” Baron said. “We’re not making the argument that we don’t like the rules, therefore they should be changed.”

The issue, Baron said, is that students have now been evicted after one offense.

“Therefore be it resolved the Public Nuisance Ordinance be further amended to be consistent with its original intent; that ‘Eviction Proceedings as a defense’ for owners be encouraged after it is apparent that the initial ‘Notice to Abate’ letter has not resulted in changed behavior by tenants; and that charges against the landlord be dropped by initiating procedures of eviction after notice of the second violation,” the resolution reads.

The resolution will be presented to the South Bend Common Council in the near future, Baron and Guzman said