Blog considers diversity at ND
Marisa Iati | Thursday, April 3, 2014
When senior Zuri Eshun created the blog “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” for a photography class project, she didn’t know it would grow into a vehicle for conversation about race and culture at the University.
One week after the Tumblr page launched, messages on the blog drew students’ and faculty members’ attention to issues of diversity on campus.
“It started out as just the [class] project, but once I started reading more about [a similar campaign at Harvard University] and different schools that were doing it, I wanted it to be something … that had some kind of impact on campus,” Eshun said. “So that’s why I then turned it into a project involving a lot of diversity students on campus, rather than just my friends.
“I wanted it to be something that was widespread and something that caught attention and something that really brought that sense of where we are with race as a campus to the forefront.”
The blog, located at itooamnotredame.tumblr.com, and a Facebook page titled “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” feature photos of students with messages written on their arms, palms or other parts of their bodies. Eshun said those messages are either hurtful statements that other people have said to them or reactions to those statements.
“I know that a lot of the [other schools’] campaigns use white boards or a chalkboard or something to write their saying down, and so what I wanted to do to make it unique to Notre Dame was I had them write it on them somewhere, so that it was their experience and that that couldn’t be taken away,” Eshun said.
Eshun said she reached out to students of racial and cultural minorities via email and Facebook to invite them to participate in the project. She said she included students of various minority backgrounds to make the point that “as an entire [minority] group on campus, we are going through this together.”
Eshun said she instructed volunteers to make their written messages “whatever is honest to them.”
For senior Olevia Boykin, who participated in the project, that message was “Oh, you’ve got it good. You can play that diversity card!”
“I’ll be going to law school next year, and that was the most pertinent thing that’s been said to me recently,” Boykin said. “I think a lot of people think I got in because I’m Black or I got to write a diversity statement, but … that’s not why I got in.”
Eshun said she thinks the blog scares some people because it suggests that Notre Dame is imperfect.
“Being told that something negative has happened, people take it as an offense to them,” she said. “[But] no one is blaming anyone for anything. If this is anything it’s saying there is no blame, there is no anything, there’s only going forward with this.
“If you were to take this project, respond to it negatively and move backwards, that would be a problem. But if you see this project and you see what your peers have gone through, you can only go forward with it. You can only have a change in mindset.”
Sophomore Kay Kay Fiannaan said she decided to participate in the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” project because she wanted to encourage people to discuss issues of race and culture on a personal level. She wrote on her palms, “Are you dating [blank]? He is black too!”
Fiannaan said she realized that after someone made the comment to her, she had talked about the experience only with her friends who were also minorities.
“I thought this would be a good chance to get other people to understand that this has actually been said. This … kind of view that someone has or this idea that someone has, it’s surprising, but it’s out there,” Fiannaan said.
Eshun said she has received both positive and negative feedback to the blog.
Fiannaan said although she has heard people call the project “attention-seeking” or “unnecessary,” she believes the blog strikes at the heart of issues of diversity at Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame is a family, and it’s not perfect. And really working toward that is what matters the most, which is why all these efforts that the administration has been putting in really mean a lot,” Fiannaan said. “However, it’s one thing to be up there in the office and making all these rules and changing different parts of the structure of Notre Dame … but it’s another thing to get to the heart of the issue, which is the students.
“And that’s what this project is supposed to do, really to get students talking about this on a very personal level.”
Eshun said the blog has recently started to gain momentum.
“Where it is now is that it’s starting to kind of be talked about, but what I want it to be is something that you have to go and see or you have to kind of be a part of,” she said. “I want it to be at a point where everyone has seen it and everyone can start that dialogue.”
Freshman Manny Caballero, who participated in the blog, said Notre Dame students’ different racial and cultural backgrounds are very apparent.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing, but also, at the same time, the [blog] project helps people kind of develop a sense of community and lets them know who we are, where we come from, what we are about,” he said.
Eshun said the students featured in the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” project are shaped by their cultures and backgrounds. She said the project displays parts of these students’ identities and people should acknowledge their messages.
“It’s not sympathizing, it’s not being sensitive,” she said. “It’s respecting that person enough to know ‘I see who you are, I see that you’re African-American, I see that you’re Asian or that you’re Hispanic or Latino. I see that, and I’m going to respect you, not only as the person that I know you as, but as the person who is attached to this lineage and this history and this culture.’
“And ultimately, when the whole thing is done, that’s what I want.”