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Spring Visitation draws minorities to campus

Sheila Flynn | Friday, March 26, 2004

Nearly 160 students arrived on campus Thursday for this year’s Spring Visitation weekend, hosted annually by the University in an attempt to recruit the most qualified and talented minority students in the country.

“It brings students that Notre Dame would normally lose to other schools that I think benefit the campus as a whole,” said student coordinator Alex Santana, who oversaw Latino recruitment this year.

Santana attended Spring Visitation himself in 2000 and said the weekend played a compelling role in his choice to leave the Los Angeles area and attend Notre Dame.

“If I wasn’t flown out to visit the campus, I would’ve been one of those students that would’ve ended up just staying in California,” Santana said. “That’s the type of student that Spring Visitation really tries to target – [the student] that otherwise would not visit the campus and would end up going to an in-state school.”

This year, the University flew in 156 students for Spring Visitation, said Gil Martinez, the assistant director of admissions who oversees the event.

“There are eight Native Americans, 64 African Americans, 29 Asian Americans and 55 Hispanics,” Martinez said.

The purpose of Spring Visitation, he said, is to show those students the campus and the real Notre Dame experience – a decisive opportunity they would most likely not have had without the University-organized weekend. Real student interaction and a physical introduction to the school are “critical” Martinez said.

The high school seniors are paired with current students – some minority and some white – who have been instructed to “be honest about their experience at Notre Dame” and “talk to them about not only the great things about it but also things that they find difficult,” Martinez said.

Throughout the weekend, the prospective students will live in dorms with their hosts, attend classes, eat in the dining halls, meet faculty and take part in a variety of special events designed to introduce them to all aspects of the University. In addition to educational and logistical forums or meetings about topics such as financial aid and academic life, the prospective students will also enjoy cultural events such as Latin Expressions and the BCAC Fashion Show.

Such a concentration of cultural events on Spring Visitation weekend, however, has occasionally been criticized, and student coordinator Arienne Thompson said students sometimes complain of “deceptive diversity.”

“We’ve had problems with some prospective and current students saying that,” Thompson said. “Clearly, the demography of the people that we invite for Spring Visitation is not totally reflective [of the majority of the student body].”

Thompson said, adding, however that the authentic experience of everyday life provided by the weekend gives students a good glimpse of what the reality is.

“If you go to the dining hall or go to class with your host or anything, it’s not possible for you to be deceived,” Thompson said.

Santana agreed.

“The white students on campus don’t disappear for three days,” he said.

He said that Notre Dame, very often, is different from the prospective students’ home communities, with differences ranging from demographics to the weather. And when the high school seniors come for Spring Visitation, he said, hosts and organizers “give them the real deal.”

“There’re some great pluses, and there are some negatives that may affect some more than others,” Santana said. “It’s up to each individual person to assess whether or not they can handle it. Notre Dame’s not for everyone.”

And those students who do decide that Notre Dame is for them usually end up staying, Thompson said.

“We have great retention rates,” she said. “People make friends for a lifetime through Spring Visitation.”

Organizers said the weekend is mutually beneficial for students and the University, showing targeted students that Notre Dame is the best institution for them while helping to facilitate increased diversity on campus.

“I’m making Notre Dame a better place by recruiting these bright young individuals, but I really do feel that, for a lot of these kids, I’m showing them a better way,” Santana said. “A lot of them would have a better chance at success in life coming to Notre Dame.”