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Faculty reflect on inclusion initiatives at Notre Dame

| Tuesday, February 23, 2016

“We have not only top-down focus, but we have bottom-up momentum. When you have one or the other, it’s hard to get that change. But when you have both, you at least have the promise of change,” Hugh Page, vice president and associate provost for undergraduate affairs, as well as the dean of the first year of studies program, said in a town hall on diversity and inclusion Monday evening.

The event was sponsored by the Diversity Council and featured a panel of administrators including Page, Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for student affairs, Maureen Dawson, assistant dean in the first year of studies program, and Maura Ryan, associate provost and vice president for faculty affairs. The panel was moderated by John Duffy, the Francis O’Malley Director of the University Writing Program and associate professor of English.

Administrators, left to right, Maura Ryan, Maureen Dawson and Hugh Page gathered Monday evening to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in a town hall sponsored by Diversity Council. Chris Collins

Administrators, left to right, Maura Ryan, Maureen Dawson and Hugh Page gathered Monday evening to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion in a town hall sponsored by Diversity Council.

In his opening remarks, student body president Bryan Ricketts said the University has a “checkered history” on inclusion and diversity efforts.

“Our University chose not to admit women until 1972. Its first black student came in by accident through a Navy training program that assumed he was white. Even within the past five years, gaining full recognition for our LGBTQ students took, in part, a sustained student movement, and many of the initiatives you will hear about tonight owe some of their urgency to the Call to Action, a collective action that began after the Black Student Association and African Student Association found fried chicken parts in their mailboxes,” he said.

Exploring pathways forward on issues of diversity and inclusion will require sustained dialogue, Ricketts said.

“The initiatives that will be presented tonight have been praised by some faculty and students for being a clearly demonstrated commitment to progress and criticized by others for being too little and too late,” he said. “Finding a path forward that respects both of these viewpoints is a challenge accepted by our presenters, and I would like to thank them for their demonstrated commitment to these issues.

“But I am hopeful that at a University whose mission statement ‘requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students’ and perhaps more importantly ‘prides itself on being an environment of teaching and learning that fosters the development in its students,’ together, we will be able to fully realize its call to be a home of learning and growth for all members of the human family.”

Diversity recommendations

Hoffmann Harding said the division of student affairs adopted a set of 21 diversity recommendations in the spring of 2014, as a result of 160 interviews conducted with students, faculty and staff, and prompted by data from surveys on student satisfaction with campus life.

Notre Dame students experience a level of overall satisfaction that is significantly higher than the average of peer institutions, however, in regards to diversity, students experience a level of satisfaction that is much lower than the average of these peer institutions, Hoffmann Harding said.

“In every single group, including I might add, majority students, white students, our satisfaction with the level of diversity on our campus is much lower than our peers,” she said. “I’d like to look, in part, on that result as a shared vision … we all know we can benefit from a more diverse environment here at Notre Dame.”

The 21 diversity recommendations are re-evaluated every six months and grouped into four categories, Hoffmann Harding said.

“I make no representation, however, that they are perfect, nor the complete and total and final answer as to how we will ultimately will meet that climate result — which is what I would ultimately love to see,” she said. “It’s a list that should and must continue to evolve and change.”

The goal of the recommendations in the first group is to improve the presence and readiness of division of student affairs staff to serve a diverse student body, she said.

The goal of the second group of recommendations is to augment services offered by Multicultural Student Programs and Services (MSPS), and the goal of the third group of recommendations is support for students with high socioeconomic need.

“Remember, we walked into this endeavor and this study by looking at results that were cut by race and ethnicity,” she said. “ … What we heard from many students is ‘hey, you’re missing something in terms of welcome and inclusion on campus,’ and that’s that students, regardless of their ethnicity, might not feel welcome on this campus or feel that they’re able to succeed as quickly as possible because they come from a very distinct and different set of economic circumstances.”

The goal of the fourth group of recommendations is a visible commitment to diversity, which includes posting the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement in residence halls and student affairs offices, as well as honoring a graduating senior who promoted a spirit of diversity and inclusion during his or her time on campus with the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. Award.

Moreau First-Year Experience

Page said the Moreau First-Year Experience was created in a four-year process, that included “brainstorming, conversation, reflection and strategic planning.” The creation of the Moreau First-Year Experience was centered around Basil Moreau’s vision of education, as an enterprise that is “helping young people to completeness.”

“The goal of the entire process was to address one simple question: What can we do to welcome and orient, over an extended period of time, Notre Dame’s newest students?” he said. “And to do so in a way that is consistent with the educational charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and that invites everyone to be part of a larger project that involves the building of a diverse and welcoming community, in which students are broadly attentive to issues of wellness, intellectual climate, discernment and the like.”

Dawson said the Moreau First Year Experience is structured so the topic of diversity is addressed multiple times throughout the academic year.

“We wanted to build into Moreau a sense of weekly conversation and iterative learning, that topics that are important come back in different ways across the year,” she said.

The tenor of the course is one of “welcome and inclusion,” Dawson said, continuing themes emphasized in Welcome Weekend.

“Welcome Weekend, that first contact at Notre Dame, was really about understanding this place, getting to know people and hopefully getting a sense of how to make a mark, how to make a Notre Dame experience both an individual statement and one of unity,” she said.

A primary goal of the Moreau First-Year Experience, going forward, Page said, will be greater training of instructors to facilitate “difficult” conversations on topics like diversity and inclusion.

“What we really put in place is kind of a revolutionary teaching concept: the idea that the person who serves as the instructor in the classroom, will not necessarily be the expert … but in many respects be a fellow traveler with you,” he said.

Office of the provost

Ryan said initiatives in the office of the provost to increase diversity and inclusion among faculty have been informed by a 2013 climate survey. The office has hired a director for academic diversity and inclusion, who will begin in April.

“All of us in the provost’s office consider diversity and inclusion to be our most significant initiative this year,” she said. “We engaged since last summer in broad diversity and inclusion training for our academic leaders, and we will continue that endeavor.”

Provosts, deans, institute directors and department chairs have participated in training programs so far, Ryan said.

“Our hope is to expand that training to wider circles of faculty and, in particular, faculty that are involved in search committees, committees on appointments and promotions, faculty who are serving on provost’s advisory council,” she said. “I think what was particularly helpful was what are the particular challenges here at Notre Dame in identifying issues of inclusion and exclusion, in issues of diversity.”

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About Catherine Owers

Senior News Writer Catherine Owers is a senior from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is studying English and Theology.

Contact Catherine