The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Panel examines effect of Obama campaign

LIZ O'Donnell | Thursday, February 19, 2009

A panel of students, faculty, and staff discussed the impacts that President Barack Obama’s campaign had on unifying the diverse American population Wednesday evening in the Coleman-Morse Center Lounge.

Members of the Notre Dame community gathered to eat dinner and listen to the discussion, which was titled “Obama’s Impact on Diversity, Inclusion and Civic Engagement: Now and Beyond.”

Shades of Ebony, the Africana Studies Department, and the Black Alumni of Notre Dame hosted the discussion, which lasted approximately an hour.

The panel consisted of six members of the Notre Dame community ranging in ethnicities, ages, and religious affiliations.

Members included Carmen Orozco-Acosta, a political science graduate student, Cecilia Lucero, the assistant director of undergraduate research, Jasmin Simmons, a sophomore majoring in Spanish and psychology, Spencer Howard, a senior political science major and president of the College Democrats, Naunihal Singh, a political science professor, and Lois Jackson, a former student and assistant VP & counsel and concurrent assistant professor at the Law School.

Erdina Francil, president of Shades of Ebony, who moderated the discussion, began the panel by expressing the reason for the event being held.

“We are here today because Black History Month isn’t an event for only African Americans to celebrate,” she said. “It should be a time to celebrate diversity and come together as a country.”

She then addressed the panelists for the first time, asking why they became involved in the campaign with Obama.

Lucero said she was previously hesitant to join in any political activity, but said this election was more personal than any other in her lifetime.

“This election really hit home, I wanted my family to know where my views stood,” Lucero said.

Howard, unlike Lucero, has been highly active in politics for many years. He said he wanted to get involved in order to break the stereotype that young people are not politically active.

“We started a PAC [Political Action Committee] called the Northern Indiana College Democrats, which apparently was the first student-run campaign office in the country,” Howard said.

Francil then posed the question of why there were different types of people involved during this campaign, and how inclusion and civic engagement affected this involvement.

Addressing the diversity of the president’s family tree, Singh offered the explanation that Obama is a universal candidate who fits all peoples’ backgrounds in a number of different ways.

Howard said Obama has a way of transcending boundaries and a way of showing all that he respects their views.

When asked how the campaign caused them to think differently about inclusion and civic engagement, the panelists responded that while the country has a long way to go in conquering the issue of racism, large strides were made.

Simmons said progress was made but the country is not yet perfect.

“It has taken a long time to get this far,” she said. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Many of the members of the panel had campaigned door-to-door for Obama, and when asked if people said anything shocking or offensive at the doorsteps, all agreed that while there were a few extreme cases, overall, people were inviting and polite.

“There were a large number of people that were able to talk about the issue of diversity and the election,” Orozco-Acosta said.

Orozco-Acosta also said the groups that were created during the campaign must continue meeting and creating and attaining new goals to help the success of the presidency.

Francil asked the panel how the newly-elected president will change the country, and what still needs to be done to bridge the racial gap.

“This election comes at a great time because it is not so much black and white, there are people of all races and colors that are starving right now,” Simmons said. “People don’t feel the need to affiliate with their race because we all want the same things at the end of the day.”

The panel also discussed what needs to be done to promote diversity on campus.

Jackson said that it is important to encourage dialogue.

“No one is na’ve enough to think that America’s problem with diversity are over now that we have elected an African-American president,” she said. “Students need to be proactive and push their agenda by deciding what actions they want to take.”

The discussion concluded with questions from the audience.

One subject talked about was the diversity sessions that are included in all contemporary topics classes that are mandatory for first-year students.

Members of the audience and the panel voiced their concern that students in attendance at these sessions were not engaged enough. They also said that they hoped to find a way to increase interest and participation in those discussions.