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viewpoint

We are seeds

| Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed — and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors — and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.” – Ecclesiastes 4:1-2

This is a response to a Letter to the Editor published on Tuesday, Nov. 17, entitled “Perfect place to grow.” This response is meant to address not only the author, but also the larger Notre Dame community. We, the undersigned, feel that our entire campus would benefit from a careful rebuttal of each of the points made in the original article. Moreover, this response should be read as a clear statement of our proclaimed values.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 5 p.m., members of the Notre Dame community gathered on the steps of the Main Building to stand in solidarity with students of color at the University of Missouri who have been affected by institutionalized racism and unimaginable threats to their well-being. We stood in solidarity against prejudice. We stood in solidarity against injustice. We stood in solidarity against hate. But more importantly, we stood in solidarity for change.

We exercised the rights that the members of our armed forces fight for day in and day out. Speaking up is one of the most patriotic expressions of the freedoms for which our men and women in service sacrifice their lives. Our demonstration’s coincidence with Veterans Day was not intended as a display of disrespect, but rather an appreciation of the fact that we have the freedom and obligation to stand up for what we believe in.

We intend to deal with each of the points made in the article individually, so as to avoid confusion.

“Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first objection to our demonstration was that it appealed more greatly to “emotion, anger and passion than to morality and solidarity.” As we gather from the preceding words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., words that lack passion lack conviction. Movements that lack emotion lack purpose. Solidarity, one of the main tenets of Catholic Social Teaching, is certainly not mutually exclusive of emotion, anger and passion. Emotion is an integral element of what it is to be a human being and crucial to human communication, commitment to the common good and greater understanding. Moreover, morality is very rarely a cold and calculated execution of logic. It is a compassionate statement of faith tempered by the reason of equality and justice. If the injustice we witness — in the violence towards people of color around the world — does not make us angry, how can we credibly claim to be moral agents? Moreover, people who come together for a cause in the absence of passion are not truly standing in solidarity for or against anything. We are unapologetically emotional, unapologetically angry and unapologetically passionate.

Secondly, we wish to respond to the claim that our movement is an exclusive one. Last week, students across the nation wrote variations of the following Facebook status:

“To the students of color at Mizzou, we, the students of color at Notre Dame, stand with you in solidarity. To those who would threaten their sense of safety, we are watching.”

It is, however, important to note that among the variations of this status was the following:

“To the students of color at Mizzou, we, allied students at Notre Dame, stand with you in solidarity. To those who would threaten their sense of safety, we are watching.” Any student who did not identify as a person of color, but wished to show their support in a similar manner, was free to repost this version of the status.

Why did the statuses not read, “We, all the students of Notre Dame, support all the students at Mizzou who need our support”? Because the students at Mizzou — and at universities across the nation, including Notre Dame — who are the subject of racial slurs and whose safety on campus is threatened due to race are students of color. The statement that all students at Notre Dame support all students of Mizzou has not been substantiated up to this point, since all of our peers have not made it a priority to break the culture of silence surrounding racial injustice on college campuses. Until all students have demonstrated a commitment to standing against the injustices like those that students of color at Mizzou have faced, we will not accommodate our messages of support to include their silence. Lastly, the suggestion to modify our words to read, “We support all the students at Mizzou who need our support” is founded in the same logic that replaces “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter.” All students across the nation do not lack institutional support in the same way that many students of color do. All students are not the subjects of racially-motivated violence. Students of color are specifically targeted, and it is time that they are directly and intentionally the focus of our solidarity.

Next, we want to make clear the difference between being intentional about the language we use and being intolerant of other people’s opinions. Political correctness operates at its best as a system of language discernment. Being offended by someone’s opinion is not the same as experiencing a microaggression that emerges from notions of race and difference entrenched in white privilege and white supremacy. The key difference between an opinion shaped by white privilege and one that is not is the power dynamic: the former opinion has the power to oppress marginalized groups, and often times has been part of systemic oppression, while the latter does not. The logic that protesting and demonstrating are somehow morally lacking and overtly emotional is often used to justify the criminalization and subsequent brutalization of organizers and agitators, in addition to the continued endangerment of those on whose behalf they demonstrate and organize.

As Notre Dame students concerned with “respect for human life and dignity,” in the vein of the Black Lives Matter movement, we view our demonstration as a necessary proclamation of the value inherent in the lives of the black students targeted at Mizzou and across the country. We take umbrage at the suggestion that our decision to champion the lives of students of color in some way denies the value inherent in the lives of our nation’s veterans or those of students who do not identify as people of color; we simply wish to make clear that the lives of black students are precious too.

Lastly, we wish to address the claim that the timing of our demonstration lacked discernment. Racism is never conveniently timed. Students of color are tasked with coping with microaggressions on campus and news of national and global racism in addition to an already rigorous academic curriculum. While we meant no disrespect to the Veterans Day ceremony, which was planned prior to the events at Mizzou, we felt that our response as a Notre Dame community in support of the students there needed to be swift and meaningful. Direct action and social justice campaigns are often considered “poorly-timed” or inconvenient in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the implications of racism. We are of the mindset that justice too long delayed is justice denied. As current events demonstrate, our heightened sense of urgency following the events at Mizzou is shared by students at many other colleges and universities across the country who have felt equally inspired to create change on their campuses.

We hope our attempt to address the concerns brought forth in the original letter lead to greater understanding, more nuanced discussion and long-lasting change on our beloved campus.

They tried to bury us, but they forgot we are seeds.”

Xitlaly Estrada, junior

Lucas Garcia, class of 2015

Rachel Wallace, senior

Alex Rice, senior

Natalie Thomas, junior

Bi’unca Redmon, freshman

Taja Reynolds, freshman

Carlisia McCord, senior

Matthew Caponigro, senior

Monica Gorman, senior

Imanne Mondane, junior

Blessing Atanmo, junior

Steven Waller, senior

Ray’Von Jones, senior

Preston Igwe, senior

Qai Gordon, sophomore

Brenna Leahy, junior

Tamara Hyppolite, freshman

Will Smith, freshman

Edwina King, freshman

Dennis Small, freshman

Chaz Milligan, freshman

Sierra Rainey, freshman

Michelle Pham, senior

Gifty Marfowaa, freshman

Jas Smith, senior

Cayla Andrews, sophomore

Danny Funaro, junior

Daniela Nuñez, senior

Mylan Jefferson, junior

Celeste Villa-Rangel, senior

Helena James, freshman

Zoe Walker, freshman

Jourdyhn Williams, junior

Lauren Pate, senior

Tylah Gantt, senior

Lamara Parnell, sophomore

Erin Williams, freshman

Deborah Bineza, freshman

Alison Leddy, senior

Trebor Goodall, freshman

Chizo Ekechukwu, senior

Savannah Kounelis, senior

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

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
  • Marisel Moreno

    “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
    ― César Chávez

  • Mr. Pockets

    Since the need for further dialogue was cited in the article, I was wondering if we could try discussing micro-aggressions. I feel as though the term gets used very broadly and I’m not really sure what it even means at this point (beyond a mildly racist or sexist comment). Could anyone help me out with a more laymans definition than that?

    • gailb

      A blog in Psychology Today has a good definition: , Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.” When these occur over and over, as they often do, they can be debilitating. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race

      • Monica

        A lot of them are unintentional and unconscious, but they contribute to the aspects of the majority group culture that make members of the minority feel unwelcome.