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Panelists discuss race and educational opportunity

| Thursday, October 27, 2016

As part of student government’s Race Relations Week, David Robinson, former NBA player and father of student body president Corey Robinson; David Krashna, Notre Dame’s first African-American body president; Christina Brooks, the City of South Bend’s diversity and inclusion officer; and Maria and Gabby Muñoz, undocumented students at Notre Dame spoke in a panel Wednesday night on racial justice in the context of opportunity.

“Race Relations Week was an idea brought to our current student body president, Corey Robinson, by David Krashna, a 1971 graduate of the University and Notre Dame’s first African-American student body president,” senior Rachel Wallace, student union representative to diversity council, said. “[Krashna] had a vision for creating a space on our campus for honest discourse about racial justice from a variety of different perspectives.” 

Juniors Maria and Gabby Muñoz are studying chemical engineering at the University thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows undocumented residents to work and attend college legally in the U.S. They could not, however, apply for student loans, and many schools required them to apply as international students, forcing them to pay out-of-state tuition.

“Aware of this, we applied to 18 different colleges, hoping that one of them would offer us enough financial aid,” Gabby Muñoz said. “Several of them rejected us because we were DACA students and others could not give us the financial support that we needed. Notre Dame was the only school that offered us full aid.”

The Muñoz sisters said being DACA students also made it difficult to apply for internships and research positions, as most positions require applicants to be citizens.

“At the beginning of our freshman year, studying abroad seemed out of the question, since we could run the risk of not being able to re-enter the country,” Maria Muñoz said.

Krashna was the first and only African-American student body president until senior Corey Robinson was elected last year. Citing other pioneering students — including Frazier Thompson, the first African-American student athlete to earn a letter at the University and Goldie Lee Ivory, the first African-American woman to earn a degree from Notre Dame — he said all students need to succeed is the opportunity to do so.

“Throughout the decades here at Notre Dame, other black students have matriculated and graduated from Notre Dame, when given the opportunity,” he said. “When given the opportunity, they have grabbed the opportunity to attend Notre Dame. Indeed, many have flourished as a result of the education they’ve received at the University, as have other racial minorities.”

While the Muñoz sisters and Krashna focused on increasing educational opportunities at the University, Brooks spoke on problems with the opportunity for education in South Bend.

“The disparity in education is where we see 47 percent of the total population [of South Bend] has a high school diploma or less, and we have 14 post-secondary institutions here, including four-year institutions, two-year institutions and trade schools,” she said.

In order to address this disparity, she said South Bend is focusing on two solutions to opportunity: My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative launched by President Barack Obama to “address the persistent opportunity gaps by boys and young men of trouble,” and the Youth Task Force, which offers “leadership and civic engagement opportunity.”

“All youth and young adults should be safe from violent crime and individuals who are confined should receive the education, training and treatment that they need for a second chance,” she said.

David Robinson, a former NBA player for the San Antonio Spurs, founded the Carver Academy, a charter school in Texas. The power of education is life-changing, he said.

“I watched 500 graduating students walk across that stage, and every single one of them held up a sign that said what college they were going to,” he said. “I saw the families down there celebrating, and you could sense what a transformation it was for each of those families. They knew what it meant for these kids to be graduating high school and headed to college.”

Developing a strong culture is crucial to the success of minorities, Robinson said.

“Everyone talks about culture, but no one really knows how to build it,” he said. “In a place like the San Antonio Spurs, I’ve been very fortunate to be in a place where we’ve built a strong culture, and that has lasted years. That culture has been perpetuated; when guys come to our team, they buy into it.

“Here, you have a wonderful university and you have the opportunity to build that same kind of culture, but everyone needs to buy into that.”

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About Megan Valley

Megan Valley is one of the Associate News Editors for The Observer. A junior majoring in English and the Program of Liberal Studies, she hails from Flushing, MI and lives in Flaherty Hall.

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