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viewpoint

Structurally, Notre Dame is designed for wealthy White Americans

| Thursday, September 28, 2017

When discussing my experience at the University of Notre Dame with the institution’s apologists — or anyone for that matter — I’m usually met with dismissiveness. As an orphaned queer student of color, my demands for more inclusive policies provoke responses like: “But they’ve created [insert campus institute for marginalized community] precisely for students like you.” Or “If you talk to them, they’ll make an exception for you.” Or even, “You can’t expect them to understand and meet all of your particular needs.”

You’ll notice that all these suggestions are premised upon the fact that I’m an outlier.

Well, it’s true. While I’m not alone in my structural location at this university, I’m certainly not “Katie from Chicago.” But precisely the fact that “Katie from Chicago” is the archetypal Notre Dame student is the symptom of a grave illness.

On the surface, it’s an intuitive proposition: The phrase illustrates the University’s poor inclusion policies that render null the university’s efforts to diversify the student body.

But the root cause of these failures is subtler and perhaps more difficult for privileged students — and indeed the University’s administration — to recognize. Whether intentionally or not, the University of Notre Dame is structurally designed for wealthy White Americans.

Is this written in the University constitution? No. Figuratively, however, it’s written all over University policy, crafted without heeding marginalized students’ explicitly solicited advice.

Take the new housing policy, requiring incoming students to spend a minimum of six semester on campus. Going against student focus groups’ recommendations, the policy forces residence halls upon students of color, queer students, student victims of sexual violence and other groups who find respite from marginalization in off-campus housing without offering concrete proposals to tackle these issues. But heterosexual white male students need not worry.

Or take the new Office of Student Enrichment, established to assist low-income students when their financial aid package is insufficient. Because the office is only funded by private donations and not by the University itself, it has insufficient resources to assist all students eligible for its services. Still today, many students have difficulty procuring such essentials as over-the-counter medication; fortunately for me, football tickets are all I’ve gone without this semester. In any case, to my wealthy peers: To your good health, and enjoy the game on my behalf.

Certainly, the University has made provisions for students like myself. Distressed students may obtain exemption from the new housing policy, for example. But options like these further marginalize us; by transforming us into perennial exceptions, these policies strip us of our agency, forcing us to appeal to benevolent administrators in our time of need rather than allowing us to take control of our lives as independent adults.

Rather than boosting financial aid packages to begin with, for example, the University administration has propped up the sickly Office of Student Enrichment, to which low-income students must resort for all needs trivial to life-threatening.

In other words, by crafting essentialist policies designed with privileged students in mind, or else without the counsel of underprivileged students, the University not only marginalizes students like myself, but indeed forces us into need.

When voicing my discontent about the University of Notre Dame’s policies vis-a-vis marginalized student communities, I have been met with skepticism. My standards are too high. I’ve demanded too much.

Many even acknowledge the University administration cannot see past its archetypal students’ privilege, and knowingly or not caters to this population. But, hey, they’re trying their best.

In the meantime, as they say: “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Perhaps they are right: I may be a student, but I’ve been made a beggar.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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