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Cultural communities strengthen ND family

| Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recently, a column was published in the Viewpoint section of The Observer titled “Poor structures lead to poor race relations.” This article pointed out some perceived Notre Dame institutional problems, specifically minority-oriented freshman retreats and student organizations, as a cause for poor race relations on this campus. While we agree with the author’s point that the alleviation of this issue requires action from the administration, we do not feel that these retreats and clubs are the root of the problem.

There are a number of claims that were made about these programs that we would like to address. One claim is that the retreats are firmly set apart for minority students and create a divergence between the “regular” students and “other” students. In response, we would like to point out that Campus Ministry states the following: “The Freshman and First-Year Fall Retreat is open to all first-year … students, but it is especially geared toward [Asian and Asian-American, Latino, African-American] students.” Those who have attended these retreats know that we are pleased to have students who do not necessarily identify with the designated cultural group and welcome them into our family.

This still leaves open the question as to why these retreats are necessary and why they create a smaller community within our Notre Dame community.

Each student comes in during their freshman year from a different background. This diversity of background is part of what makes Notre Dame so great. But with the advantages diversity brings also come some challenges that must be addressed. Some students come from communities that are vastly different from Notre Dame’s racial and cultural demographic. This can create a sense of “culture shock” for some students that is especially difficult considering how many other life changes they are experiencing within the first few months of college. These retreats provide a sense of comfort and community that puts these students more at ease as they make their transition.

Many people like to think that we live in a post-racial society where different racial groups are perfectly integrated. However, race and especially culture are often a large part of one’s identity; culture influences the way we are raised, the food we eat, the language we speak and the music we listen to. It is important that students who come to Notre Dame are still able to express themselves however they wish. This is not to say that students must choose between their cultural community and the greater Notre Dame community — rather, they are encouraged to participate in both. Much like dorm communities or religious communities, cultural communities are meant to enhance the Notre Dame experience as a whole.

These sub-communities also benefit the entire student body. They provide a means for students to learn and participate in cultures that are different from their own. We recognize that many students come from backgrounds where they might not have fully experienced other cultures. Clubs like Latino Student Alliance, Black Student Association, Asian American Association and others provide an opportunity for any student to learn about and participate in another heritage. All of these clubs make an effort to invite and welcome students of all backgrounds; for instance, the Asian American Association has for the past year used the motto “0-100 percent Asian.”

One criticism of the freshman retreats is that they happen too early in the year, before minority students have the opportunity to make friends on their own. One analogy we find on campus is freshman orientation itself. During this weekend, students are encouraged to bond with and participate primarily in their dorm community. However, this does not prevent students from making friends with those outside of that community as well. Attending these retreats does not inhibit one’s ability to join other communities on campus; in fact, many students come on the retreat, enjoy their time and make friends, and go on to become primarily involved with other communities that share their interests.

A proposed change to these retreats that has been considered by the administration is to push the dates for these retreats to later in the fall. We believe that this will not change the way that students make friends outside of their respective cultural communities. Instead, it will fragment these communities. Many of the students who have gone on these retreats have cited them as a large part of the reason they decided not to transfer out of the university after negative experiences with freshman orientation. These retreats, clubs and communities are critical retention tools for the university. Furthermore, regarding race relations, fragmenting these communities will eliminate opportunities to gain cultural competency. It is by experiencing and participating in these communities that we truly improve ourselves; not by having a few minority friends.

While we do agree that there are issues at the administrative level that contribute to poor race relations on campus, we do not believe that eliminating multicultural retreats and clubs is the answer. Rather, we urge the University to address the issue by showing increased support for offices like Multicultural Student Programs and Services and organizations like Diversity Council. These entities provide great programming for all students and we believe that they would benefit from greater funding and personnel. We also acknowledge the changes that are already being implemented by the university, especially in regards to inclusion during freshman orientation.

In conclusion, we would like to extend an invitation to all Notre Dame students to participate in the frequent multicultural events that occur on campus and to come to our meetings. If you are unsure of where to begin, you can reach out to any of the cultural clubs on campus; we welcome you with open arms.

Michael Dinh, 2013 Asian and Asian-American Freshman Retreat Co-leader

Celeste Villa-Rangel, 2013 Latino Freshman Retreat Co-leader

Ray’Von Jones, 2013 African-American Freshman Retreat (The Plunge) Co-leader

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

Contact Letter
  • Chinelo

    Thank. You.

  • Johnny Whichard

    When you tell incoming students: “This retreat is for you and people who look like you”, you are not supporting “inclusion”. I realize these retreats have a beautiful intention, but all one has to do is take a trip to the dining hall and see the race-based pockets and lack of intermingling. I think cultural clubs on campus are a great thing because they celebrate unique cultures and actively pull in students of all shapes and colors. RACE-focused groups promote segregation and the damning “us vs them” mentality that afflicts many students on campus. What I love about my dorm Sorin College is we have our own table in the dining hall. During frosh-o and all through senior year, we all know that we will never eat alone and will always be welcomed. All of us of mixed backgrounds are one family in the dorm. We transcend skin color, religious faiths and nationalities and we did it without segregating our family right out of the gate. Notre Dame should emulate true diversity.

    • Rachel W.

      While I do respect your insights and observations regarding diversity and inclusion on campus, and specifically in the dining halls, I feel that the argument of minority students self-segregating themselves by sitting together in the dining hall is one that is often misinformed and argued from a very biased perspective. Here are a few thoughts that I feel are usually left out of the conversation:

      1) You say that Sorin College has a table in the dining hall, where residents “transcend skin color, religious faiths, and nationalities.” But how is that really much different than a group of minority students eating together? People eat with their friends, and friends bond over common interests/qualities. The residents of Sorin bond over the fact that they live in the same dorm; in the same way, minorities bond over culture and other similarities. This is natural and I personally see nothing wrong with that.

      2) Not all minorities who sit together are the same. Students sitting at primarily minority tables also transcend religious faiths, nationalities, residence halls, etc, etc. The only reason that people see “segregation” is because they are blind to the diversity that lies even within the communities of color on campus. And the only reason why people are able to judge a table of minority students as “exclusive” is because of physical appearance. Such a table stands out as “different” in a predominantly white setting, so it’s seen as wrong. But if these students looked the same as the majority and happened to come together to eat over other common interests (such as living in the same residence hall, as you mentioned), I doubt that anyone would accuse them of self-segregation.

      3) No one is outright shunned from sitting with primarily minority groups in the dining hall. If one is so bothered by such a “lack of intermingling” in the dining hall, just sit down at one of these tables and see what happens. Chances are, you will be welcomed with open arms.

      • Johnny Whichard

        1). It is different because we don’t care about superficial traits like skin color. We connect because we are in the same dorm and love each other equally…not because we have similar ethnic backgrounds. We aren’t friends because of race. If you really believe we should only converse and dine with those with similar backgrounds, what is your real view of diversity?
        2). No duh. It would be ignorant to think all Latinos are the same. I’ve been at a factory in which Mexicans and Guatemalans had to be separated due to potential hate crimes. Your point falls upon listening ears, believe me. But still lacks true “inclusion” and “diversity”. I firmly believe students should not need to form groups on ethnicity. I just don’t see the official policies of Notre Dame as agreeing. It is natural for people to stick to what’s comfortable. But that isn’t embracing diversity. Sorin College is amazing because we destroy that internal psychology. We celebrate our cultures and love each other so damn much that nothing can get in the way. That’s true diversity…seeing beyond physical traits and celebrating each others’ traditions.

  • Meg

    We try to intermingle in the dining hall…. People move away from us…. What about all the majority students sitting together? I have plenty of friend from various background, but who someone chooses to sit by in thdining hall doesn’t represent whether or not someone is being inclusive Johnny…. Your logic is very flawed. There is no us vs hem mentality because all of our groups are welcome to everyone. Thr Asian American association prides themselves of having 0’tom100% Asian origin in their club members. Other clubs reflect this as well, so stop blaming minority students for this issue, and open your eyes to the things that you could do to help make ND more inclusive . No one wants to argue with any of you or point blame, we just want people to understand

    • Johnny Whichard

      I hear you and the clubs…and I respect your insight. I struggle as I remember being told by a Korean friend during my freshman year that I couldn’t go to a party because I didn’t speak Korean. (That is just the first of several incidents with kids of other races) So all of the claims people tell me that I can intermingle with people of other races struggle…especially with racially based groups. I simply don’t buy it. (The “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” movement is extremely antagonistic as well…it demonizes white students). I believe there is a heavy difference between cultural and racial clubs on campus. You and I want the same thing, but in my four years here, I have seen a gnarly “us vs them” mentality…it’s truly unfortunate. But on the other hand, I’ve seen kids mix with cultural clubs that they have no ethnic ties to, and that’s awesome! 🙂

      • nah

        Posting gross messages on Observer viewpoint letters at 2 in the morning. Take a step back and examine your life.

      • Stop

        First of all, no one is obligated to hang out with you and if I’m understanding correctly you weren’t invited to that party because of language, not race. Second of all the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” project is meant to show people like you who insist on claiming that we live in a post-racial society that students at this university still deal with very real racism. If you think they are trying to “demonize” white students, you’ve completely misunderstood. I’m sorry people of color don’t want to hang out with you, maybe its not because you’re white but because you write things like this.

  • Phurry

    The authors simply misinterpreted the piece that they are responding to. If they went back and looked, the original article never stated that the root of racial tension is the clubs. The authors merely assumed so. Taking a step back and rereading the original article might reveal to those who originally misunderstood that everyone is on the same side overall.