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Taking on MLK Jr. Day

| Friday, January 23, 2015

Instead of worrying about whether we have Martin Luther King Jr. Day off each year, we should focus on how we can take the day on and follow King’s example.

At a panel held this week to discuss black students’ experiences at Notre Dame over the past 70 years, alumnus Azikiwe Chandler expressed that knowing what he knows now about Notre Dame’s race relations, he probably would not have decided to come here.

His is not an uncommon opinion; many students of color who have attended Notre Dame have shared this sentiment. As mentioned in a Letter to the Editor published earlier this week, some students of color feel so discouraged by race relations here that they consider transferring and sometimes ultimately decide to do so.

This is an enormous problem. For one person on this campus to feel disrespected or unloved is an unacceptable failure for our entire community.

As a University rooted in Christ’s love, we have a responsibility to our fellow students and to ourselves to make Notre Dame a more welcoming home for all. While none of us can solve the problem of racism completely, we must do everything in our power to build a better community for current and future students.

The student body must actively seek out opportunities not only to discuss but also to listen to the experiences of minorities. Though students rarely act out of hostility, racism still exists here. It exists in the aggressions at off-campus parties and in microaggressions that appear on whiteboards and posters in O’Shaughnessy. Being aware of these incidents is just one of the first steps in combatting racism at Notre Dame.

As panelist Olevia Boykin noted, many white students feel uncomfortable facing issues of race relations. However, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” To truly achieve greatness as a University, no student should avoid things that make him or her uncomfortable. No Notre Dame student should ignore racism occurring on campus or beyond. We all must appreciate and acknowledge the experiences of our peers, even if their words are difficult to hear. We must never stop listening to each other, realizing that every Notre Dame experience is different and offers insight into how we can work to make our community a more loving one. Further, we must realize that no matter how much we listen to our friends and love them, there will always be gaps in our understanding of experiences other than our own — especially since our experiences vary so greatly.

If we as a student body are to make Notre Dame a more welcoming place for all, we must stand together and support each other. We must speak out when we hear racist remarks and support each other when we are called to speak out against racism. We must help those who want to speak on race issues find a forum to do so. We must work to have the Notre Dame minority experience — whether it is our own experience or the experience of others — be acknowledged, respected and accepted.

Instead of taking Martin Luther King Jr. Day off, we can encourage faculty members to take on issues of race and racism in their classes and encourage minority students to share their experiences. Instead of taking the day off, we can call on the administration to listen and learn from the experience of black students at Notre Dame over the last 70 years. Instead of taking the day off, we can all join hands in a sign of support, just as University President Emeritus Fr. Ted Hesburgh did with King himself. Instead of taking the day off, we can take it on — not only on that day, but every day.

 

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