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Don’t ask, don’t tell’

Katrina Linden | Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Notre Dame prides itself in being a place of unity, family and acceptance. But in my year of being a student here I have never encountered individuals of such a great degree of ethnic ignorance, socio-economic privilege and self-absorbed blissfulness, which is saying a lot considering that I was raised in affectionately named “Orange Curtain” Orange County, Calif. Despite the large possibility of offending the greater student population, I am going to address what we would all love to remain silent about: the minority of students who insist on exercising their freedom of speech to reveal great moral character.

Last week a boy yelled, “Hey, f*****!” to a friend across North Quad, and all I could do was cringe in disgust and keep on walking.

A boy in my Islam class joked about the prophet Muhammad in a manner that would offend anybody and looked to others for affirmation. When a girl called him out on his insensitivity he defended his ignorance by claiming his right to mock an entire religion for his own entertainment because of his knowledge of the subject.

A girl in another class pointed out that the only people on financial aid at Notre Dame are probably dirt poor, a comment I took to heart considering that if it were not for Notre Dame’s generous financial aid package and their numerous donors it is a scary possibility that I would not be here right now.

I encountered a boy who claimed that having a “black house” off campus and not a “white house” for students to congregate at is basically reverse segregation, essentially making the same argument bitter individuals make about why there isn’t a “White History Month” in existence.

If you start your sentence with “I wasn’t trying to be racist”  – or homophobic, or pretentious, or privileged – you should probably just close your mouth, because any statement that requires you to reaffirm your personal opinions with an overly defensive response to another’s criticism should be saved for dinner with your GOP-supporting uncle.

However, I cannot say that I blame any student in particular for making remarks like these. I realize that a great majority of students here have been sheltered for most of their lives to the point that they probably met their first ethnic friend in college. The idea of diversity for some is that one black kid in your English class in the fifth grade, or the nanny from Guatemala who used to take care of you. You would like to say that you would love to have a gay best friend, but when the girl down the hall reveals that she is lesbian, you get fidgety and uncomfortable.

And that’s the issue. It is not ethnic students that experience “culture shock,” it is sheltered individuals who do not realize they are not at their 95 percent Caucasian high school anymore and that some people are actually offended by racist jokes. We, ethnic and underprivileged students, are in the wrong for not understanding that racism is funny and that we should just learn to laugh along.

For clarity, various ethnic houses do not exist because they like to segregate themselves from the greater Notre Dame community; they exist for the students that have been rejected by their peers for not fitting into the Notre Dame mold. Where white and wealthy is a comfortable normality, sometimes it is nice to be around people who understand how you grew up and can help adjust to the expectations of students who would like you to hurry up and adjust already.

It is difficult at times attempting to relate to those who have never experienced a school lockdown or had a drug dealer sit next to them in pre-calculus. How do you explain that food stamps are an actual necessity for the great majority of individuals you grew up with while your dorm mate bashes federal aid and is against welfare support of any kind? How do you defend your presence at Notre Dame based on merit when the only thing you hear is “affirmative action” whenever these topics come up in conversation?

The easy answer is that you don’t. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Don’t ask any ethnic or underprivileged student about his lives and he won’t tell you about his disabled father on Social Security or about his mother who is working three jobs to send him here. Don’t ask him about younger siblings who will have to somehow finance their way through college and don’t ask about his older siblings working minimum wage and going to community college either. Because that is foreign, uncomfortable and scary even to think about. We all have our own problems and should not be expected to care about those of anybody else.

Katrina Linden is a sophomore English major and studio art minor living in Lewis Hall. She can be reached at klinden1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.