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Dialogue can improve diversity

Observer staff editorial | Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Few issues polarize the Notre Dame community as much as race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. On most days, The Observer’s Viewpoint pages are filled with columns and letters that incorporate those ideas in some way, shape or form. Discussions between the “average” Notre Dame student – white, upper-middle class, Catholic, straight – and members of minority groups at Notre Dame often dissolve into theoretical debates with sweeping generalizations as their basis.In order to promote intellectual dialogue, Notre Dame has made an admirable push toward diversifying its campus. And with more than 20 percent of the undergraduate student body comprised of ethnic minorities – the largest percentage in school history – the University’s identity is evolving.When diversity is mentioned, however, many often think narrowly of racial issues. True ideological diversity – and a level of diversity that Notre Dame is making an effort to reach – involves including a multitude of perspectives in an academic environment to reach balanced dialogue. Some perspectives are created from ethnic experiences, others from what a person who is not heterosexual encounters. Some opinions are formed based on religious teachings, others on academic theories. When these viewpoints are combined in a university atmosphere, misinformed stereotypes can be replaced by a healthy respect for other opinions.In publishing a three-part series focusing on diversity at Notre Dame, which begins today and continues through Friday, The Observer hopes to foster discussions that are of a vital necessity to an academic community. But instead of focusing on theoretical issues that involve policies and statistics, reporters profiled more than 35 members of the Notre Dame community in order to capture their tangible, yet underrepresented, perspectives. Since opinions are shaped based on personal experiences, it seems only appropriate to describe the lives of those who struggle to exist in a largely homogeneous Notre Dame community, in addition to the perspectives of administrators responsible for shaping University policy.Academic discussion has already irrevocably changed Notre Dame. Sixty years ago, it was unheard of for a black student to come to Notre Dame. Thirty years ago, it was unheard of for women to attend Notre Dame. Open dialogue is the only way the University can continue to improve its diversity.