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viewpoint

Diversity council in the wrong?

| Monday, December 7, 2015

“Through collaborative research, programming and service, Diversity Council of Notre Dame explores issues of diversity at the University of Notre Dame in an effort to promote awareness, understanding, and acceptance of all differences that make up the Notre Dame community.”

Last Monday, the Diversity Council of Notre Dame voted to force its elected secretary to resign. Diversity Council is a branch of Student Government consisting of representatives from thirty different diversity-related clubs on campus. Lauren Hill, Diversity Council’s former secretary, had served as an executive member of Diversity Council for the entirety of this semester, and also acts as an officer of Native American Student Association of Notre Dame and as an intern for Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS). She devoted the entirety of her time outside of schoolwork to diversity-related issues. One might wonder why Hill could be ousted from a club that she so deeply cares for.

On Nov. 16, Hill published a viewpoint, “Perfect Place to Grow.” This article described her personal disagreement toward the “ND for Mizzou” rally, which transpired on Nov. 11, the previous Wednesday. This rally had been meant to show Notre Dame students in solidarity with the Mizzou demonstrations.

Immediately, Notre Dame students who felt targeted by the article filled various social media outlets with upset, angry and disappointed posts. This reaction was at least partially warranted; Hill’s article certainly could have been written better and made better points. The subjects of racial inequalities and discrimination are, for good reasons, very sensitive for many students at Notre Dame.

Hill’s article was put up for discussion at the first Diversity Council meeting following its publishing. At the beginning of this discussion, Hill read a statement to all 30 members of the general assembly, stating, among other things, that if any of them wished to discuss her article, she would gladly meet with them immediately. However, at no point during the entire next week did anyone reach out to her. Several motions were made at this meeting, including the demand that Hill resign.

A week later, Diversity Council assembled again for its general meeting. There were several votes throughout this meeting, two of which addressed the previous week’s motion for Hill to resign. After much discussion, Hill called for a vote over whether her article violated the Diversity Council mission statement. Of those who voted, 67 percent said the article did indeed contradict it. Immediately after, a vote to force Hill to resign was called. Hill left the room. To force her resignation, a tw0-thirds majority was required — 66 percent. Hill is now no longer on Diversity Council.

This is unacceptable.

Hill’s errors in her article and the sensitivity of the subject which she wrote about do not forgive Diversity Council for its ousting of Hill. Its reasoning for removing Hill from not only its executive council but also its general meetings is that her article violated Diversity Council’s mission statement, as written above. This could not be further from the truth.

Hill’s article explicitly makes no mention of race; she solely focuses on her problems with the singular ND for Mizzou rally. In fact, the only time race was brought into the discussion was by the response article, “We Are Seeds,” which made assumptions about Hill’s race and was signed by many members of Diversity Council. Hill makes no mention of her agreement or disagreement with the central Missouri protests, no mention of her opinions on topic such as white privilege or racial oppression. Hill should absolutely be allowed to disagree with one rally while agreeing with the overall message that the rally is attempting to promote.

Her article was shared by many on social media and accused of undermining racial relations and the good that the rally was attempting to do. Can Hill not disagree with a rally while agreeing with the overall message that the rally intends to promote? Do we live in a society where we must agree with every aspect of a message, including its means of spreading that message, to agree with that overall message?

Further, the event Hill’s article addressed was not endorsed by Diversity Council or MSPS. If the event was run by clubs Hill was responsible for representing, a highly public Observer article disagreeing with the ND for Mizzou rally would have been inappropriate action. The reality is that her disagreeing with an event completely independent of her clubs should be entirely fine, but Diversity Council still punished her in the worst way possible for writing the article.

Finally, Hill was given little real chance to defend herself; members of Diversity Council attacked Hill and her article on the basis of the offense it caused and the assumption that her opinions were wrong because they contradicted the majority. While Hill could have defended herself more vigorously in the meeting and against members of Diversity Council, nothing she said would have mattered. The council was unwilling to accept a difference of opinion in their community without suppression. Diversity Council was not interested in understanding what Hill meant in her article, but more interested in punishment for what they saw as a blatant disregard for their mission statement.

Before voting for her resignation, not one of the thirty members of Diversity Council directly confronted Hill in person, even when she offered to explain her beliefs to each one of them at any point. Hill was subjected to a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality in which her guiltiness was based on her difference of opinion.

For a move as meaningful as forcing an officer to resign, one would like to imagine that Hill would have at least been given the benefit of the doubt that she agrees with the overall message of the ND for Mizzou rally because she is involved in so many extracurricular activities involving diversity. No matter how much Hill explained herself, nothing would have changed that Diversity Council members saw her article as wrong and therefore must vote her off the Council.

Hill was voted into her officer position and was voted into that position for good reasons. If members of Diversity Council wished not to elect her in the next officer election cycle, they were absolutely free to do that without controversy. If every politician was impeached or ousted from their job the moment they said a controversial opinion, there would be few politicians. The way Diversity Council acted is an absolute mockery on any form of proper political process.

At the end of the day, Hill was free to write her article. Diversity Council was free to force her to resign. Just because you can do something, however, does not make it the right thing to do. Unfortunately, Diversity Council did not do the right thing.

Andrew Pott

sophomore

Alumni Hall

 

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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  • MC

    I’m so glad someone wrote this. The actions of DC and MSPS were appalling.

  • John Robin

    What? A lack of tolerance from a “diversity council”? Unprecedented!

    • João Pedro Santos

      Can you explain where is the intolerance?

      • John Robin

        I suggest go back and read previous coverage on the incident.

        If I recall correctly, a young woman’s letter was published, and caused such offense among her peers in a student organization that she was forced out of her position as an officer in that club. That suggests to me that the club may have displayed intolerance toward her views.

        That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some views shouldn’t be tolerated without vigorous opposition. If I published a letter advocating that all homeless people should be euthanized, I would deserve to be publicly rebuked, and perhaps even stripped of my (fictional) position as spokesman for the “Homeless Veterans Advocacy Fund”.

        But when an organization exists specifically to promote “tolerance” and “diversity”, and attacks a member for views that some in the group find disagreeable, it’s hard to miss the irony.

        • João Pedro Santos

          I don’t think you know the correct definition of “tolerance” or “diversity”.

          • John Robin

            For some people “tolerance” means supporting those who agree with you and silencing and punishing those who don’t: a sort of politically correct mob action. But that’s intolerance masquerading as tolerance.

  • K.J.

    For the record, MSPS did not take any action related to this. The individual in question was voted off of DC by students, but she still has her job with MSPS.

    • Mr. Pockets

      Thank goodness

  • Johnny Whichard

    How “accepting” and “tolerant”…

    • João Pedro Santos

      So… forcing a person to resign from a position is bullying?

  • disqus_YSjDcf5XLm

    Issues with this article:

    1) Hill’s position on DC’s executive board made her a public figure and represented DC whether she intended it to or not. It would be as if Father Jenkin’s said, “I’m not speaking on behalf of ND; I just personally have an issue against Mexicans” —it would not have been accepted as a personal opinion. ND would be on the news next day as a bigoted, unaccepting university that all students of Hispanic background should avoid in their college applications.

    2) Because Hill’s opinions reflected DC; it became an issue when it seems to contradict DC’s mission statement. 2a) She had an issue with timing in her Observer article and said essentially that there is a time and place, which depending on who this could be arguable. I posit the questions: Has there ever been the perfect time and place to fight oppression? Why can’t ND stand with Mizzou AND show respect and remembrance for Memorial Day? Is it appropriate to cast judgement (subject) on different issues that all have importance?

    Main Issues in General:

    1) DC respects diversity of opinion. The members of DC come from various backgrounds –religious, socioeconomic, race, sexuality, etc. DC is diverse and often times people disagree with each other and that is RESPECTED. It’s almost ridiculous to say DC doesn’t accept diversity in opinion.

    2) However, it is an entirely different matter when DC has a stance as an organization and you are a part of that organization but present an opposing view of that organization’s standpoint, esp. if you are a visible leader of that organization. DC needs visible unity especially when it is often times the diversity of voice on the ND campus as a whole, or else who will take the organization seriously? A house divided.

    • Andrew Pott

      Hello, glad you read the article and decided to write a response. In response to your well crafted points:

      1). Yes, Lauren was a public figure. Yes, her opinions reflect the club. Yet, I do not see how her article reflected poorly enough on Diversity Council to warrant impeaching her. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like her article at all, but essentially impeaching her was pretty ridiculous. I would ABSOLUTELY understand if she had not been voted back to her position in the next election cycle. That would probably be warranted and totally within the Council’s bounds to do. But to impeach her the level of evidence required against Lauren is much higher. If she had been blatantly racist, as in your hypothetical Jenkins statement, her being forced to resign would be warranted. But her article did nothing like that. In reality, her article said nothing bad enough for her to be forced to resign. Your analogy with Jenkins’ statement fails because nothing she said is even close to what Jenkins said.

      2). Nothing she said seemed to contradict DC’s mission statement. Read above response, as well as my article. I present evidence against this claim.

      2a). I do agree with you here – again, I didn’t really like her original article. While I do think the timing could have been better, the people in the rally should be absolutely free to protest whenever they want. You are correct in this statement. I fail to see, however, how this is an issue with my article. This seems more like a comment for her original article itself.

      3.) I’m very certain that DC does accept diversity. Diversity Council is a vital presence on this campus and I am glad they are a part of Notre Dame. In this situation, however, they did not.

      4.) Again, I attacked this view in my article. DC didn’t officially support the ND for Mizzou rally. In fact, the ND for Mizzou rally was held entirely separate of MSPS and DC. If DC or MSPS had explicitly supported the event, then you would have a point. This was not the case, however.

      I enjoyed writing this. Feel free to email me or respond to this if you have more to discuss.

      • disqus_YSjDcf5XLm

        To begin with, thank you for replying. I am sincerely glad that you are so passionate about this topic, and I can only wish that you could have had this conversation brought to DC during its two meetings that deliberated over Ms. Hill’s position.

        I want to just add that hindsight is twenty-twenty, and at this point, with several articles out and word-of-mouth on campus, more than a few times the facts have been omitted, reinterpreted or ignored. I am curious regarding your source of information, as I did not see members of the public attending DC even though the meetings are open to public.

        1) Under current DC constitution, the secretary position can be dismissed and a new secretary appointed per the discretion of the DC executive board. DC actually put it up for a general vote with two weeks allowed for deliberation for representative and gave Ms. Hill several opportunities to express her intent or provide any additional points for consideration to which she denied to comment. [Subpoint: The analogy was simply to drive the point that what Jenkins says is considered a reflection of ND, (e.g. public figure representing organization) content was rather superfluous dramatization and not meant to be a commentary on content.]

        2) It’s up for judgement, really. If you had attended DC meeting (open to public), then you would have known that a vote was requested by Ms. Hill ask the representatives of DC if they found her article in contradiction with DC’s mission statement. While I personally have my own opinions that I find irrelevant to disclose since I did not have a vote in the matter, the result of that particular vote revealed that a majority of the representatives did find it a contradiction –whether that was blatant, intent, or context. I will not imagine to know what every single person was thinking or know their background for their decisions, but in fact, since the majority found it in contradiction with DC’s mission statement, their decision then to ask Ms. Hill to resign seems to be more logical.

        2a) Perhaps. Then, we can toss out this subpoint.

        3) I would disagree. In this case, DC could not accept a divided front to the ND community, esp. in its executive board. It calls into the aesthetic that should an individual voluntarily accept a position of leadership and service to a cause, that individual should place the cause above one’s own feelings. In this case, it would be a failure in fulfilling the expectations of officership.

        4) MSPS and DC did not officially support ND for Mizzou, but the ND for Mizzou easily falls under the same principles that DC stands for: fighting against discrimination, hate, injustice, racism…Viewed another way, Ms. Hill’s article was interpreted as DC’s rejection of the ND for Mizzou and in extension the underlying message of ND for Mizzou, perhaps so far as expressing disdain towards the movement and those involved as some chose to interpret it, which is not the DC’s stance. The conclusion would be that DC was represented by Ms. Hill in a manner that was not accurate.