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viewpoint

To Walk the Walk of our mission

| Friday, January 20, 2017

The latest rankings are out, and Notre Dame is 105th, far behind rivals Stanford (19), Michigan (48), and USC (85). But this isn’t the latest college football recruiting index, algorithm, or poll. This is the College Access Index, the New York Times’ September 2015 ranking of 179 elite American universities according to their economic diversity.

I was surprised, and saddened, to read this because I know that my alma mater values diversity for the strength and vibrancy it brings the university experience. In the Together at Notre Dame vision statement, University President Fr. John Jenkins states, “In our commitment to diversity, we hope to reflect a global church that is richly diverse ethnically and culturally, yet bound together in a family extending across the whole of the earth.” Beyond talk, Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns-led immersions in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and South Bend lit my social justice fire and flipped my world on its head. I accepted my degree in economics the same day in 2009 that University President Emeritus Fr. Hesburgh presented President Barack Obama his iconic picture with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I moved to St. Louis to teach fifth grade.

While living in St. Louis, I came to realize just how privileged and insulated Notre Dame is. During my two years in the city, I learned more about the world — and about myself — from my students and fellow teachers than I did in four years at Notre Dame. Today I live in Washington, a city where thousands of young members of the global church from countries like Honduras, Haiti and Venezuela find sanctuary and attend our public schools. To fulfill its values, Notre Dame should be accessible to these immigrant students and include them in our Catholic family. But as the College Access Index shows, Notre Dame is not very high on the list of places that low-income students can go.

This troubles me. Notre Dame’s important civil rights legacy, roots in Catholic social teaching and stated commitment to diversity contradict the access it grants to low-income students. Our Lady’s current lack of socioeconomic diversity calls into question our Mission Statement, which proclaims, “The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students.” Besides the benefits that diversity bring, Notre Dame has a responsibility rooted in Catholic social teaching and in the American dream to provide an education to students in need. For these reasons, during 2017 Walk the Walk Week, I urge the University’s leaders to make a greater effort to increase the diversity of our student body.

In December 2016, 30 elite Ivy League, flagship state and other private universities launched the American Talent Initiative, an effort to expand access for 50,000 additional low- and moderate-income students to elite American universities by 2025. By joining this group, Notre Dame’s leaders could work with their colleagues at Harvard, Duke, the University of Texas, and many other great universities to find and scale solutions to the challenge of expanding socioeconomic diversity in higher education.

As Jenkins writes, “The kind of community we strive to be at Notre Dame … invites us out of isolation into something richer, more whole, sustaining.” Expanding access to more American students would richen the university experience for students and faculty and help sustain the American dream for low-income families across the United States. I hope that Notre Dame commits to expanding college access for all American students by joining the America Talent Initiative. This would be one step towards making our community more whole.

Charlie Cummings

class of 2009

Jan. 17

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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