Being a minority at Notre Dame
Natalie Howe | Tuesday, August 29, 2017
It has already been a week of school and students, new and returning, have been bombarded with “welcomes” as we settle into our collegiate home. And here is another one: welcome to Notre Dame, the “diverse” campus that tries its hardest to call itself “multicultural.”
Notre Dame has deep-rooted traditions in everything it does, and in the past that has lent itself into creating a parody of its community with the “stereotypical Notre Dame student.” White, athletic, rich, maybe even a legacy. The university tries to counter this false stereotype tooth-and-nail because some argue that it ignores all those who do not fall into those categories and it is disparaging to those who do fit the description. Whether or not you are a “stereotype,” you, as an individual, help make up the essence of the university.
In its attempt to highlight the beautiful differences in why we are each unique, Notre Dame places what little diversity it has under the spotlight. Yes, little. There is some truth to the fact that most Notre Dame students are white. The admissions website proudly boasts that 26 percent of the incoming freshmen class identifies as a person of color (POC). At first it might seem like a lot, but compare it to the University of California, San Diego, where 75 percent of students identify as a POC. Suddenly that 26 percent does not seem so grand. Admittedly, the fact that we are Catholic does alienate many prospective students. But what about us, the minorities, that are already here?
After 18 years, we have learned to deal with racist and discriminatory comments, and we have learned that sometimes we just cannot “blend in.” But our experiences still do not quite prepare us for the sudden scrutiny we face at a predominantly white campus. To many, it seems that everything we do is due to our race. Yet we are not just what we look like. While we are not defined solely by our culture, by our skin color or by our native language, they do play roles in our lives. We choose how big of a role. College, especially a place like Notre Dame, allows us to go through a holistic education that encompasses not only intellectual growth, but spiritual and cultural growth as well.
For Latinos like myself, many of us relate to the iconic movie “Selena”: “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time.” Our parents do not seem to understand why we are not more Latino than we currently are, and many of our non-Latino friends may not understand how we grew up with such a different culture. We might wonder if we are failing to honor what our family taught us because we are “too white” or do not speak Spanish as fluently as we would like — if at all. We might wonder if we are too “foreign” to fit in everywhere else. Combining our two cultural worlds does not seem to appease anyone and instead, manages to confuse everyone.
It can be scary being the “token minority,” unsure of where you belong with your cultural blend. If you are that person in a friend group, others might worry whether a joke is in poor taste. If it is in Moreau class, all 19 other students and the professor might turn to look at you when racism is brought up. It is hard facing these issues alone. Engaging in a cultural club here on campus helps bridge our two cultures. It is fascinating to join others and learn about the heritage that influenced our upbringing, and it is comforting to share the struggle of adapting to the Notre Dame culture. Our university has beautiful traditions that we all want to be a part of. Those of us who have grown up with different customs than most of our classmates bring a unique, vibrant piece to the puzzle of campus culture by infusing it with our heritage.
While I cannot speak for all cultural clubs, I can almost guarantee that you will find a community that fosters not only discussion and security, but the chance for you to expand your beliefs and comfort zone. You will find people just like you, and people who are completely different. You will learn about topics and issues you never thought you would care about. (I now know more about Mexican folk dance than my own family.)
One of the biggest worries about joining these clubs is that they will engulf and separate you from the rest of campus. I promise that they will not isolate you from Notre Dame’s rich traditions. Instead, they bring us closer to the community. We all make up Notre Dame, and our unique lives and experiences give this place the vibrancy — and yes, the diversity — that makes it beautiful. We are a small percentage. But we are here, sharing our lifestyles and values with the rest of the community. No matter what we identify as, here on campus, we are Irish. We are Notre Dame.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.