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Council publishes suggestions

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Diversity Council of Notre Dame submitted a resolution to the administration Thursday detailing recommendations for further actions benefitting the University’s diverse community, compiled after four months of discussion.

Senior Luis Llanos, chair of the Diversity Council, said the importance of the resolution derives from the Council’s unique ability to unite representatives of 29 clubs whose members mostly come from underrepresented groups.

“Last year, the Diversity Council came together and decided as a whole that it was important for us to really go in-depth and figure out what in our communities was going wrong and why people didn’t feel at home here,” he said. “We brought together the opinions of many of the communities on campus and started in April.

“We started with a lot of different points … and we were almost going to send the resolution up in April, but then we decided to take the summer to really pinpoint what was wrong and what action steps Notre Dame could take to make students feel at home. This is what has come through.”

The resolution supports three “recent changes to community life” made by the University and offers seven recommendations for further action under the Office of Student Affairs, Auxiliary Operations and the Office of the Provost.

Llanos said the administration “has been very positive when it comes to community life and the diversity population on campus,” and he hopes to continue the conversation about inclusion once they review the resolution.

“We’re going to have to have meetings to explain these points more extensively and explain the process we went through, but past that, we’re going to have to … see what action steps we come up with in our unified approach,” he said. “We want to go to [the administration] with these and say ‘How can we be a part of the conversation, and how can we help?’

“We want to be proactive. We’re not just handing it to them and asking them to work on them.”

In the resolution, the Council recommends under the Office of Student Affairs that a visible statement of inclusion be placed in each classroom and residence hall and that rectors collaborate in the process of choosing freshman orientation staff instead of assigning the task to a hall commissioner, “with the goal of creating a more inclusive environment.”

Under Auxiliary Operations, they recommend that Halal and Kosher foods be made available to students with dietary restrictions for religious reasons.

Under the Office of the Provost, they recommend that mandatory in-services be held for faculty and staff to “aid in the better understanding of cultural differences and how these differences can influence and impact the classroom dynamic.” They also recommend that students be required to complete a course with a new “Cultural Enrichment” attribute that simultaneously fulfills an existing University requirement and that the University “increase their efforts in the recruitment and retention of ethnically and culturally diverse faculty.”

After Llanos presented the Diversity Council’s resolution in an informational meeting with the student senate, student body vice president and senate chair Nancy Joyce said multiple senators expressed interest in writing a resolution of their own to support the Council’s recommendation.

“I think that sentiment came out of the understanding that student senate is supposed to represent all of the students on campus,” Joyce said. “We’ve got a representative from every dorm; we’ve got off-campus council; we’ve got all the class councils.

“When the senators understood that these recommendations were coming out of the 7 percent of students on campus that don’t feel that they’re welcomed, they felt that it was really important as a body to support those recommendations.”

Iris Outlaw, director of Multicultural Student Programs and Services, said while the Council is separate from the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion chaired by University President Fr. John Jenkins, many of the recommendations “fall in line” with that committee’s work.

“These are changes that are outside of the responsibility of the students,” Outlaw said. “They can send the recommendations up, but the students themselves cannot implement them. I think it’s really about informing the administration what they would like to see, because one of the key things is that the students have commended the changes that have already been made.”

The resolution is “another wave” of what previous students have already began, including the Call to Action movement and campus climate surveys, Outlaw said.

“Some of these recommendations are tagged onto initiatives that they have already started but never had been actually presented full-force to the administration before,” she said. “In part of the resolution, they talk about our charge as a Catholic institution and our commitment to society, and I think the big push has been our social justice component.

“It’s even part of the Holy Cross charism of how we treat one another and the task of educating the head, the heart and the mind.”

Kate Zenker, vice chair of the Diversity Council, said the group views the resolution as a “unified effort” with the administration.

“There are other efforts in other parts of the University, but we’re all working toward the same goal,” she said. “We’re hoping that by giving this to the administration, by telling the administration what this group of students represented by the Diversity Council wants, we can aid in the efforts of the Oversight Committee.”

The student senate resolution, which passed Nov. 20, does not add to the Diversity Council’s resolution but will be sent to the administration to support the Council’s recommendations. Student body president Alex Coccia said Senate’s role was simply to evaluate the other group’s resolution.

“Because there has been so much debate and discussion within the Diversity Council, it was very clear that these were the recommendations that were coming out of the clubs and the organizations … and essentially, the result was our supporting statement,” Coccia said. “What’s important about this resolution and these recommendations is that it’s obviously been a long process that involved much collaboration and communication between students and administrators along the way.”

Llanos said with the resolution the Diversity Council does not suggest everyone in the diverse community feels excluded on campus, but that they want to help the part of the community that does.

“Twenty-four percent of the Notre Dame population identifies as a person of color, and what we’re saying is that there are people in our community who feel [excluded], and we can’t let this go unnoticed,” he said. “I think a lot of positive changes can be made, and the administration is very open to hearing from us so I think the future is looking very good.

“We just want to make Notre Dame a better place for everyone on campus. That was the purpose in the beginning, and that is the purpose that’s still driving this resolution forward.”

Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at ajakubo1@nd.edu