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We are all responsible

Dr. Frances L. Shavers | Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Community:
On Feb. 24, Father Thomas Doyle, Dr. Don Pope-Davis and Notre Dame senior Brittany Suggs wrote to inform you about two deplorable and intolerable incidents in which fried chicken parts were left in the mailboxes of the Black Students Association and the African Students Association. I am writing to update you since that letter.
Since these incidents were reported and investigated, numerous activities – reflecting a collaborative interest in addressing the presence of discriminatory harassment, bigotry and cultural insensitivity – have occurred involving students, faculty and staff. Student leaders of both affected organizations, along with Student Government, hosted a Call to Action town hall meeting. In the weeks that followed, there have been classroom discussions, meetings among minority and majority student-run organizations, meetings of students with Student Affairs staff and other campus leaders, a prayer service for unity and the formation of various coalitions.
These gatherings yielded open and honest discussions about experiences had by people of color in our campus community. The stories that were told were revealing and sobering – sometimes painful for the speaker to re-tell – but they were also informative. We gained important feedback that various members of the University administration and students have already used, and will continue to use in examining, informing and modifying our policies and practices. One of the coalitions formed, the Plan of Action committee – which includes student leaders as well as faculty and staff volunteers – has been actively engaged in this process. Other groups and departments have also shared interest in positively impacting our campus climate and are working toward that end.
Looking to the future, we are committed to collaborating in building on these efforts to eliminate the occurrence of discriminatory harassment and prejudice and to improve the Notre Dame experience for all members of our community. In my newly created position as Chief Diversity Officer and Advisor to the President, Fr. Jenkins has asked me to help coordinate the University’s work with students, faculty and staff to move Notre Dame toward a more inclusive campus climate. Together with the Office of the President, the Office of Student Affairs, the Office of the Provost and other campus units, we will work with students to develop constructive strategies that address the problems revealed by these incidents.
We – as departments and individuals, in classrooms and residence halls, across the range of our racial and ethnic backgrounds – are all responsible for creating an inclusive campus. Specific initiatives have been and will continue to be considered in coming months. We will communicate them to the Notre Dame community as they are developed in detail.
At Notre Dame, an issue like this is important and relevant not only to members of our Black community and to others of color. It affects us all. Indeed, we are all responsible for actively preventing future occurrences and creating a campus where diverse backgrounds and perspectives are embraced, nurtured and celebrated. These incidents provide an opportunity for each of us to reflect on how we can be more thoughtful and loving in what we say and do, contributing to the formation of a more accepting university community. In essence, this is at the heart of our Catholic Mission.
In more direct terms, if you are the victim of discriminatory harassment on our campus, please report it through the appropriate channels (http://www.nd.edu/~equity/discriminatory_harassment/DiscriminatoryHarassmentProcedures.shtml) and if needed, seek support. If you are an employee of the University who receives or otherwise handles reports of harassment, you should demonstrate compassion and empathy as you work to expeditiously handle the report. If you receive or witness an intolerant remark or act, consider finding a way – as difficult and unexpected as it may be – to tell the person that the behavior is inappropriate. Do so only if you feel safe. And if you are someone who is intolerant or insensitive in your conduct, consider how hurtful you are to us all. Acts of harassment, in whatever form, are completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
Our faith calls us to stand together in opposition to the hatred of racism wherever it may exist, be it on our campus or in society at large. We must live lives dedicated to the celebration of our differences, teaching these qualities to others through our actions. By being both examples and ministers of love and inclusion, we can effectively combat the types of bias and insensitivity recently made apparent on our campus.

Dr. Frances L. Shavers
Chief Diversity Officer
April 30