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Student government seeks to promote diversity

| Friday, December 9, 2016

During their campaign in the spring, student body president and vice president Corey Robinson and Becca Blais stressed diversity and inclusion as one of their top priorities.

Before the school year started, student government directed much of their attention to addressing violence from and against police officers, Robinson said.

“This year — after this summer — a lot of our efforts have been on police brutality and the unjust reaction, as far as the violence toward our law enforcement officials and officers,” he said. 

Blais said the political climate — including police brutality and concerns post-election — was having a heavy influence on how student government was approaching diversity and inclusion, especially when it came to students protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“I would say, especially this fall, that has become something that we’re focusing a lot of attention on,” she said. “How do we make our DACA students feel comfortable? How do we make them feel safe? And not only DACA students, but just students who feel marginalized, especially following the election.”

Robinson said Race Relations Week was intended to directly engage with and start dialogue around political issues.

Race Relations Week included a showing of the one-man play “The Cop” and a panel exploring racial justice in the context of opportunity. The panel included David Robinson, former NBA player and father of 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.

Originally, Race Relations Week had two more events — a talk on the intersection of race and sexual assault and a mock presidential debate — but they fell through. Both events occurred later in the semester.

“We did have a lot of mishaps, and there’s no excuse for that,” Robinson said. “There’s no excuse that we had four events planned and two fell through. That was a week before. We packaged it as a four-event week and then a week before, turns out some things had to be changed.”

In spite of the scheduling issues, Robinson said he thought the week was a success, in terms of starting dialogue on campus, a sentiment that Blais echoed.

“To be fair, it was the first of its kind in terms of student events, so I think it’s a good starting place and hopefully it’s continued,” she said.

Robinson said that if Race Relations Week were to become an annual event, it would be a “very nice compliment” to Walk the Walk Week in January.

“We really talked about a breadth of issues,” he said. “ …  It could encourage campus to talk about diversity and inclusion year-round.”

Student Union representative to Diversity Council Rachel Wallace, a fifth-year, acts as a liaison between the cabinet for student government and the Diversity Council board. She said she was especially pleased with the turnout for “The Cop.”

“Our target for that was really majority students and white students and thinking about ‘how do I have different biases,’ but it applied to everyone,” she said. 

While Wallace has worked with other student groups the last four years, she said working with student government was a “completely different experience.”

“We bring a new advantage to events because we have access to more students,” she said. “We represent the whole student body. So do other groups, like Diversity Council … but sometimes people see Diversity Council and think it doesn’t apply to them. So for student government to be on an event, it’s helpful because people feel like they’re included in the conversation.

“ … We program things, but we had a focus on supporting groups who have been doing this and who have expertise in the field. For example, [Multicultural Student Programs and Services] and Diversity Council have expertise on diversity and inclusion, so if we can support what they’re doing, that’s where our focus has been.”

While student government is planning more programming for next semester — including an event for Walk the Walk Week and a town hall meeting  — Wallace said much of their involvement has been centered on supporting existing programming through cosponsorship.

“The students who are in the trenches, doing the groundwork, we’re going to support them any way that we can,” she said. “ … We try to stand in solidarity as best as we can, with the presence the student body has authentically built up.”

As someone who is involved in both student government and Diversity Council, Wallace said each side has different goals for next semester.

“One thing [to improve on] from the senate perspective, that I agree with, is bringing in people who might not be interested inherently,” she said. “We’re hitting an audience with these events, but they’re people who already care about these issues, who are already actively involved, and we want to figure out how to reach the general student body.

“ … I know from the Diversity Council perspective, one thing we want is more action based on the dialogue we’re having. One thing we’re interested is to partner with other organizations to take action on these issues and not just talk about them forever.”

Diversity and inclusion are critical to forming the community of Notre Dame, Robinson said.

“I think Fr. Jenkins said it the best,” he said. “Notre Dame is for all students and if we don’t do that, we’re not Notre Dame. We’re either all Notre Dame or none of us are Notre Dame.”

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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.

Contact Megan