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Stand up, show up

| Thursday, April 20, 2017

As a white, female, middle class student, I’m a part of every majority at Notre Dame, except one: I’m not Catholic. While this sometimes causes some minor “inconveniences” (to dramatize) like having to notify my Foundations Theology professor that I had a different version of the Nicene Creed memorized for our exam or missing out on jokes about awkward encounters at dorm masses while exchanging the sign of the peace, it has not done much to directly interfere with my experience here. I wish I could say that other students who are part of various minorities on campus have had similarly inconsequential problems here, but unfortunately I cannot.

For spring break the past two years, I went on a Center for Social Concerns immersion trip to Chicago and St. Louis with the Realities of Race seminar. On these trips and throughout the preceding classes, we spoke frankly and openly about race in our country. We heard directly from people who were a part of the unrest Ferguson. We were confronted by the systemic nature of racism. We were sometimes overwhelmed with hopelessness, and other times with hope. It was intense to say the least.

I would have hoped that at least Notre Dame provided a safe place from this strife. Some naive part of me wishes that my friends and fellow students weren’t suffering in the bubble of this campus. However, personal testimony from people of color on this campus forced me to confront the truth: Notre Dame has a race problem, just like the rest of the nation. Many of my friends told me that they seriously considered transferring after their first year, or even their first semester. Some told me they are frustrated that they are automatically placed on the multicultural student programming services email ListServ, but no white students are, furthering barriers for expanded cultural conversations and understanding. Some feel cheated by Spring Vis, an admitted student weekend specifically for racial minorities, where a few of my friends say they were given an unrealistic and idyllic idea of racial relations on campus. Some feel singled out by their classmates, often assumed to be athletes whether they are or not. I was told stories of microaggressions many are confronted with every day. They reference the blatant racist comments on Yik Yak the year before I was here. As a person coming from a place of privilege, it is my duty to not only listen to these stories, but also to believe them.

Our student body jokes about our racial diversity, or lack thereof, all of the time. But for those of us who don’t actually belong to these minority groups on campus, it’s not really seen as a big deal, just a joke. These are members of our supposed Notre Dame family. We have no right to reduce their situation to a joke, particularly when we go on to not recognize the struggles they might have or work to make it better. If nothing else, our school’s Catholic mission should draw us to action, to fight for the life and dignity of all human persons, and all of the other tenets of Catholic Social Tradition.

Obviously, I can’t assume to speak for everyone, particularly not for those I do not know, and particularly as a white person. I sincerely hope that these have not been the experiences of all of our students of color. I hope that many of them have thrived and enjoyed their time on this campus, as I wish for every student. But I have been confronted with too much to ignore our problems. If there is one thing I learned from my discussions over spring break, it is that the most important thing is to not remain silent, but to stand up and show up for people and movements that need your support.

I chose to start acting by writing this letter, but there are a number of ways to act, even while here on our campus. Go to the events of cultural clubs. Take classes in Africana Studies or Latino Studies or Poverty Studies or Gender Studies (the list goes on). Read something like “White Like Me” by Tim Wise or “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Watch documentaries like “13th,” which is on Netflix. Mostly, just try to have discussions about it. If reading this article leads you to have even one conversation about race either on our campus or more broadly, it has done what I intended. Our campus, our University, is an amazing place and we have all worked hard to get here. It’s time to start making sure everyone can experience it to the fullest extent possible.

Abby Ferguson
April 18


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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  • Matt

    I don’t think us having discussions about race are going to make more minorities apply to Notre Dame

    • Priscilla Quaye

      It’s not directly about making more minorities apply, it’s about making sure that we who are already here feel and actually ARE heard, accepted, supported, respected by our majority peers to create a better campus environment. The better things are for minorities, the greater a chance of future minority applicants feeling like Notre Dame is a place they can thrive.

      • Tripper

        Do you believe in the right to be heard for everyone on campus, including conservatives? Did you protest Charles Murray’s right to speak at your university? Is it just about your tribe and its ridiculous complaints?

  • Carlo Trigiani

    Committees, classes, retreats, seminars and all are fine. It’s great that you are aware and actively engaging the community on this important issue. There are other minorities on campus to consider. Some simple suggestions, if I may. Thank the African-American single mom who cleans your dorm room daily. Engage the hard-working Dominican cook who made your omelet this morning in South Dining Hall in a conversation. Stop the Mexican landscaper on your way back to the dorm and tell him how much you appreciate the beauty he brings to campus. We are all blessed to be members of the Notre Dame family. It is our obligation to make it a better place. I applaud your efforts.

  • Tripper

    Why, why, why is Notre Dame admitting brainwashed, leftist SJW’s into its school? What is the vetting process? Hey Abby Ferguson, if you really want to help minorities, do some volunteering in an inner city. You’ll get a REAL education about race, not the anti-white, anti-Christian trash from people like Ta-Nehisi Coates.

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke


    • Aleah Appling

      If you go to Notre Dame, you would know that the concept of minority students only being found in the inner-city is inaccurate, naive, and kind of offensive to the representation of the student body here at the University. Instead of openly CYBER BULLYING the author of this article, maybe you should write your own experience in a respectful manner. If you choose not to, I’m sure the University would love to cut some space for some new freshman who are open to discussion of varying beliefs in a respectful manner.

      • Tripper

        putting “cyber bullying” in all caps does not make it true

  • Tripper

    “Some feel singled out by their classmates, often assumed to be athletes whether they are or not.”
    My god. The horror!

  • Abby, Welcome to discussions of “race” in the USA, circa 2017.

    To many {most?} Caucasians, there isn’t a “race” problem. Why? Because Caucasians are the dominant race {and ideology} and one characteristic of dominate cultures/ideologies is their inability to not only see and acknowledge their dominance but their simple refusal to entertain the possibility of that dominance {except those who rail against “white, male, western culture and values” being “attacked” and “over-thrown”}.

    Same is true for gender and sexuality.

    Until this occurs on the scale needed, all there will be will be Af Am/Latino/Gender Studies Programs and documentaries and television shows and books that will only be read/seen/viewed/frequented by those who already see the problem{s}. And with a certain political party currently holding control of all branches of the Federal Governments, and a majority of State Governments as well, don’t wait for “progress”.

    And sadly, 20, 30, 40 years from now, we might look back on this time as being the “highpoint” of race and gender and sexuality relations in the USA.